Govt must urgently release children in detention
12th Feb 2015
Clear evidence that children being held in immigration detention centres are developing serious mental issues shows the urgency of releasing them into the community as soon as possible, the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) said today.
The Australian Human Rights Commission’s report, The Forgotten Children, released by the federal government last night, called for a Royal Commission into the issue, as well as for all children to be released from detention, the closure of the Christmas Island detention facility, and for an independent guardian for unaccompanied children.
ALA spokesperson Greg Barns said that the government had responsibility for the hundreds of recorded cases of assault and sexual assault on detained children which were listed in the report, and should immediately free all children currently being detained.
“It is ironic that on the one hand, the federal government has rightly spent millions of dollars on a Royal Commission investigating historical child sexual abuse, yet on the other hand it is disregarding evidence of abuse of children which is happening right now under its own nose,” Mr Barns said.
“The evidence is clear that children in detention have been assaulted and abused while in the care of the Australian government, and that many of these children have subsequently developed serious mental issues.”
“We have independent, verifiable, categorically clear evidence provided by doctors and other trained medical professionals that children in detention are suffering horrendously,” Mr Barns said.
“It is clear that detention is damaging to children and is contributing to psychological injury. It doesn’t matter if there are 200 or 10 children in detention. Any more than zero continues to be too high in an environment that is toxic to their development and growth.”
“How that toxicity will be handled by the courts in future years remains to be seen,” Mr Barns said.
Mr Barns said that time was of the essence in minimising the negative effects that detention would have on the children.
“This report has been in the government’s possession since November,” Mr Barns said. “It has had an opportunity to take remedial action. None has been taken.”
“In those few months, children have endured suffering that they need not have endured,” Mr Barns said.
“In the light of this evidence, and for the good of the children, we need to get them out of detention immediately.”
Mr Barns said the federal government’s treatment of asylum seekers breached several international treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) and United Nations regulations on the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (1955).
Mr Barns said the Commonwealth may have a non-delegable duty of care for asylum seekers in its custody, meaning it could be held legally responsible for any abuse or physical or mental deterioration of children in its care if it could be shown that the abuse occurred while the children were in detention.
“When a person is in custody, whether it be in a prison environment or immigration detention, there is an assumption that the entity detaining that person will take reasonable care for their safety during that time,” Mr Barns said.
“Australia may have a non-delegable duty to people seeking asylum in Australia. It’s time the government faces up to this and the obligations that this creates regarding the quality of detention facilities and the safety of detainees from harm and injury.”