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Issue #1604      July 31, 2013

PNG policy is not a humanitarian one

ChilOut is firmly opposed to the government’s recent announcement that any asylum seeker arriving by boat will be detained on Manus Island, PNG. And that even those deemed to be refugees will never be granted protection in Australia, resettlement is to be in PNG.

Many will have seen the shocking Dateline program last week in which a former senior manager from the facility quit in disgust over the treatment of asylum seekers and said, among many other shocking things that it was “impossible to make the place safer”. The main grounds for our opposition are:

  • Detaining people, including children indefinitely is in contravention of international law
  • Detention conditions on Manus Island are not suitable for children.

The government has admitted this by the fact that all children and vulnerable people have been removed from detention on the island. Acknowledging that there is not room to detain many people in the present Manus facility, Minister Burke has suggested that a tent city will be erected. Dateline exposed some very harsh truths about Manus Island detention. The government wants to move more people there, potentially children, almost immediately.

Anyone detained on Manus Island needs to take malarial medication. Children under 7 years of age and pregnant women cannot safely take such medication. Will they be exposed to potentially fatal health risks? Will they be detained elsewhere until the youngest child turns 7?

PNG is not equipped to resettle refugees. Settlement services, health care, education and housing are all in short or non-existent supply. 

Either Australia absolves itself of all care and responsibility for these vulnerable people – a completely abhorrent idea, or Australia spends billions to maintain adequate standards of care for these people both in detention and into their resettlement period – an enormous tax payer cost with no benefit to the Australian community.

This policy will not save lives at sea, it only comes into effect once the boat journey is undertaken.

Australia has a duty in our region to show leadership on these issues. We are a relatively wealthy, developed nation. If we set the standard of pushing asylum issues onto developing nations what does this say to Malaysia and Indonesia who need to drastically improve their treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in order to decrease the likelihood of people undertaking dangerous boat journeys in search of safety.

What can you do?

Meet with your local MP and candidates, let them know you support humane policy and disagree with the PNG approach

ChilOut is coordinating a national roundtable of child experts to discuss the treatment of refugee and asylum seeker children in Australia. Seeking protection is a matter for asylum policy, how a child is treated in that process is a child welfare issue. We are bringing together paediatricians, welfare experts, out of home care specialists, child mental health professionals, family experts – most from outside the refugee/asylum sector.

It is intended that members will have access to Parliamentarians, to families and children in detention and will be able to give practical advice focused on the best interests of the child, regardless of disagreement or otherwise with overall asylum policy.

1700+ children detained

Amid the PNG debacle many seem to have forgotten about the thousands of people still trapped within Australia’s detention network. ChilOut is in contact with Minister Burke’s office presenting our ideas for the treatment and protection of children currently detained from Christmas Island to Pontville and all across Australia. The people of Hobart and so many ChilOut supporters have expressed a desire to welcome unaccompanied children and families seeking asylum into their homes. We are urging the government to work with child protection experts to see how this can happen. A cost benefit to the taxpayer, a potential life and health saver to children currently locked in detention and a huge benefit to our communities.

There have been many voices outside the usual ones calling for change. It seems there is a growing movement of people who don’t agree with locking up children. Let’s harness this support, work to protect the 1,700 currently locked up and ensure the rights of those yet to seek our protection are not abused.

Since ChilOut’s last newsletter a boy in Pontville has been on a hunger strike, another just arrived to Pontville – his fourth detention facility in seven months, more expectant mothers in detention have miscarried babies – the system is broken and people are suffering.

Glimpses of reality, Nauru and Manus

Whilst there are no children currently detained on Nauru and ChilOut’s remit is contained to issues affecting children and families caught up in Australia’s detention network, we are incredibly concerned to see the latest unrest on Nauru. Detaining people indefinitely, giving them no information about their future, providing them with sub-standard accommodation, services and activities/opportunities for engagement, is bound to lead to harm. We know that the same will face children and families exposed to such detention conditions.

Prior to the recent PNG announcement, Nauru is where the Coalition suggests sending children and families (as opposed to Manus). SBS’ Dateline exposed the realities of detention on Manus Island; the coalition is telling the government to send people (including children) there today. The government plans to send more tents and get people there as soon as possible. This approach is unsafe, not practical and addresses a political situation not a complex humanitarian issue.  

Next article – Nurses and midwives vow to continue ratios campaign

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