THE FORGOTTEN CHILDREN

On 11 February 2015, the Australian Government tabled a report by the Australian Human Rights Commission (HRC) titled The Forgotten Children: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2014 (Report).

The Report was the result of an investigation into the impact of immigration detention on the health, wellbeing and development of children and an assessment of whether laws, policies and practices relating to children in immigration detention meet Australia’s international human rights obligations. Its author, President of the HRC, Professor Gillian Triggs, wrote in the foreword to the Report that its findings unequivocally demonstrated that ‘prolonged detention of children leads to serious negative impacts on their mental and emotional health and development.’

Reactions to the Report were mixed.

The Coalition Government questioned the impartiality of the HRC. Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton said ‘to a large extent this report is redundant and many of the circumstances it refers to are now confined to historic reference.’ Prime Minister Tony Abbott added that he thought that the HRC ‘ought to be sending a note of congratulations to [previous Immigration Minister] Scott Morrison saying well done’ for stopping the boats.

In response to the Government’s attacks on the HRC, the Australian Bar Association and Law Council of Australia issued a media release stating that ‘[t]hose who are critical of Professor Triggs and the Commission need only stop and read the Report to see that it is concerned with detention practices of both the current and former government.’

On 13 February 2015, Australian organisations and community groups, including the Refugee Council of Australia, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Asylum Insight and many more released a joint statement demanding that the Government ‘end the detention of children once and for all.’

The Report used data collected in the period 1 January 2013 to 30 September 2014. The HRC gathered evidence through, among other things, 13 visits to detention centres, interviews with 1129 children and parents in detention and 5 public hearings with 41 witnesses. The HRC also received 239 submissions over the course of the inquiry.

The Report made a number of findings and recommendations. Some of these are summarised below.

Finding

  • Children in immigration detention have significantly higher rates of mental health disorders than children in the Australian community;
  • The mandatory and prolonged immigration detention of children is in clear violation of international human rights law;
  • Children on Nauru are suffering from extreme levels of physical, emotional, psychological and developmental distress;
  • Some children have been detained for longer than 27 months because at least one of their parents has an adverse security assessment by ASIO.

Recommendations

  • All children and their families in immigration detention in Australia and detained on Nauru should be released into the Australian community as soon as practicable;
  • The Department of Immigration and Border Protection should commence processing refugee applications within four weeks of the tabling of the Report;
  • A Royal Commission should be established to examine the:
    • Long term  impacts of detention on the physical and mental health of children in immigration detention;
    • reasons for continued detention of asylum seeker children since 1992; and
    • remedies for any breaches of the rights of children that have been detained.

While the impact of the Report will be difficult to measure, it is clear that the Coalition Government does not intend to implement a number of the recommendations made by the HRC.  In response to the Report, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said that the HRC ‘ought to feel ashamed of itself’ and that ‘there won’t be a Royal Commission into children in detention.’

 

 

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Last updated 2 March 2015