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Issue #1634      April 9, 2014

Unaccompanied children dumped on Nauru

The Immigration Minister is the legal guardian of children who arrive by boat without an adult relative. A guardian’s duty is to act in the best interests of children under their care. The Minister has decided that for 40 boys who were indefinitely detained on Christmas Island , it is in each of their best interests to be sent to Nauru forever. Over the past weeks boys have been flown in groups of ten from Christmas Island to the detention tents of Nauru. Once there, Save the Children will take some guardianship duties; however legal responsibility rests with the Nauruan Justice Minister.

We believe there are 160+ toddlers to 17year olds detained on Nauru. The children do not attend school, families live in large tents divided by fabric, there are no ceilings to create “rooms”. “Education” takes place in another (non air-conditioned) tent. Recreation facilities are close to non-existent and the mental health damage to all is a given.

The Uniting Church offered to care for all unaccompanied children detained by Australia. The Uniting Church has been successfully involved in delivering this type of care and guardianship to asylum seeker children for many years. The solution is cost-effective and is shown to result in much better health and development outcomes for children. There is no sound reason for the government’s refusal of such a plan. If they are looking for other service providers to take on the work, they also exist in Australia.

The last time Australia tried this, the Nauruan Justice Minister sent the children back to Australia within days because the risks were too great. Nothing has changed, the risks are still life threatening.

Officially there are no children detained on Manus Island. Reports now suggest there may have been up to 14 children detained there. If someone detained on Christmas Island claims to be under 18years an age assessment is done. Such “tests” are never conclusive. If there is doubt, surely the person should not be treated as an adult and sent offshore alone. But this is precisely what has been happening. Once on Manus Island, there are no child-centric service providers and no Department of Immigration age determination team to re-do the “tests”.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay has used her opening address at the Human Rights Council to single out Australia’s mistreatment of refugees and asylum seekers in offshore detention camps. There have been times where Australia’s humanitarian successes have been noted at the UN. Now we are, rightly, internationally shamed.

ChilOut

Next article – Concern over NT grog law

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