Australia’s mandatory detention policy for asylum seekers and refugee families is widely criticised because of its inhumane treatment. The Federal Governments proposal for the establishment of new detention centres for asylum seeker families at Inverbrackie in the Adelaide Hills and Northam; approximately 96km north-east of Perth could result in various implications for refugee children.
Detaining children does not comply with the Governments Conventions of The Rights of a Child. The conventions clearly state that all educational/school facilities and buildings not be within the confines of a detention centre. A recent report written by AEU Federal Research Officer Jenni Devereaux highlights the issue and provides recommendations endorsed by the AEU.
“The AEU says it’s time to stop playing politics with innocent children’s futures. We restate our welcome on behalf of the nation’s public school teachers to refugee children and their parents into the nation’s public schools. We call on the governments to put humanity first and allow these people to live peacefully in communities that support them, and to allow their claims to be processed without the duress of detention. ...We firmly believe that the federal government is bound by international covenants, including that of the rights of the child, to ensure all children have access to the best possible education ...”
According to the report, the number of children in detention is rising and the urgency for the AEU and the SA branch to take action has become paramount.
In October 2010 the Federal Government announced their plan to move children, including unaccompanied minors, and families out of immigration detention centres into community-based accommodation. The AEU is in agreement with this move and is of the view that the detention of children can have serious and negative impacts on their mental health and development.
Detention of children is not considered a decent or humane immigration policy consistent with Australia’s human rights standards. Despite this, most recently, the Government announced the plans for two new detention centres to be built. “The housing area will be fenced off from the Army Barracks with a 3 metre high fence at the back of the facility to meet defence requirements, while fencing at the front will be “like a pool fence”. The detainees will not be allowed to leave the centre. Only children will be allowed to leave the facility regularly for education. Guards at the gates will ensure adults do not leave.”
“It will not be up to detainees to decided whether to ‘stay or go’ in the event of an emergency such as a bushfire,” explains Jenni. All of which does not comply with UNICEF’s principles, in regard to a child’s rights.
The convention, a set on non-negotiable standards and obligations also known as human rights, sets minimum standards for governments to comply. “They are founded on respect for the dignity and worth of each individual, regardless of race, colour, gender, language, religion, opinions, origins, wealth, birth status or ability and therefore apply to every human being everywhere. With these rights comes the obligation on both governments and individuals not to infringe on the parallel rights of others. These standards are both interdependent and indivisible; we cannot ensure some rights without—or at the expense of—other rights,” says UNICEF.
According to UNICEF, “The Convention sets out these rights in 54 articles and two Optional Protocols. It spells out the basic human rights that children everywhere have: the right to survival; to develop to the fullest; to protection from harmful influences, abuse and exploitation; and to participate fully in family, cultural and social life. The four core principles of the Convention are non-discrimination; devotion to the best interests of the child; the right to life, survival and development; and respect for the views of the child. Every right spelled out in the Convention is inherent to the human dignity and harmonious development of every child. The Convention protects children's rights by setting standards in health care; education; and legal, civil and social services.”
Thus raising alarm when children in Australia are being held in detention centres whilst being exposed to psychological, emotional distress and not having access to education outside of detention facilities.
According to Jenni, “The AEU SA Branch also has information that DIAC [The Department of Immigration and Citizenship] plans to outsource the placement of children from Inverbrackie into schools to the Red Cross. There are concerns that the Red Cross will include private schools in the placement offers.”
Recently, The Australian Human Rights Commission has released its latest report regarding Immigration Detention on Christmas Island. “Among other things, the Commission finds that children currently there are subject to mandatory, arbitrary and unnecessary detention in poor conditions. Of the approximately 250 minors in detention on the island, half of them are 16-17 year olds, many of them unaccompanied. The education program for 16-17 years olds (who are not allowed to attend local schools) has a waiting list of 114 kids. The program has been expanded to give a 3-hour class each weekday to a total of 72 students, meaning most will still miss out. A program to send young children to kindergarten 3 days a week has been discontinued and there are no open grassy areas in the camp for children to play on. A nearby playground is only accessible on some afternoons when guards take children there,” the report noted.
Whilst the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 37(b) states that “No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.” It is clear that the Federal Government has a long to way to go if it is to meet internationally accepted standards, but more importantly to its own conventions and policies.