A last resort?
National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention
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Media Pack - A last resort? The report of the National Inquiry inot Children in Immigration Detention
Media Release - Thursday, 10 June 2004
STATEMENT BY DR SEV OZDOWSKI –
HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSIONER
Four weeks ago today, a report was tabled in Federal
Parliament that detailed numerous and repeated breaches of the human rights
of children in our detention centres.
The report A last resort? National Inquiry into
Children in Immigration Detention called for the release of all children
within four weeks of tabling. The deadline is today and there are still
children in detention - children living in Baxter detention centre in
South Australia, in Villawood in NSW, on Nauru, and in housing projects
in Port Augusta.
There is a 14 year old boy still in detention in the
Port Augusta residential housing project. Between April 2002 and July
2002, the boy (then detained at Woomera) attempted to hang himself four
times, climbed into the razor wire four times, slashed his arms twice
and went on hunger strike twice. The boy’s mother was hospitalised
due to her own mental illness during this whole period. There is a 13
year old child who has been seriously mentally ill since May 2002. This
boy has regularly self-harmed. Mental health professionals have made more
than 20 recommendations that this child be released from detention with
his family. But he is still there.
The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission report
chronicles the experiences of children in detention in exhaustive detail.
The Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs
has not disputed the incontrovertible evidence of the devastating impact
that indefinite detention has on the mental health of children and their
families. Some children have been diagnosed with clinical depression,
post traumatic stress disorder and developmental delays. Many children
have showed symptoms like nightmares, bed-wetting, muteness, lost appetite
and suicidal ideation. The report documents, beyond any doubt, that the
longer children are in detention the more likely it is that they will
develop serious mental heath problems.
Nine out of 10 of asylum seeker children in detention
end up calling Australia home - because they are eventually found to be
I call for the release, by day’s end, of all
asylum seeker children remaining in detention. They are unlikely to abscond
and in time most of them will be found to be genuine refugees. There is
no valid reason for the continued detention of these children.
I also urge the federal Parliament to examine the other
recommendations that, if implemented, will ensure this treatment of children
is never repeated.
Media contact: Paul Oliver 02 9284
9677 or 0408 469 347
Media Release - 13 May 2004
AUSTRALIA BREACHES CHILDREN’S
A Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Inquiry
has found that children in Australian immigration detention centres have
suffered numerous and repeated breaches of their human rights.
In its National Inquiry into Children in Immigration
Detention Report- A Last Resort?, tabled in Federal Parliament today,
the Commission found Australia’s immigration detention policy has
failed to protect the mental health of children, failed to provide adequate
health care and education and failed to protect unaccompanied children
and those with disabilities.
The two-year, comprehensive Inquiry also found that
the mandatory detention system breached the UN Convention on the Rights
of the Child. It failed, as required by the Convention, to make detention
a measure of “last resort”, for the “shortest appropriate
period of time” and subject to independent review.
The system failed to make the “best interests
of the child” a primary consideration in detaining them and it failed
to treat them with humanity and respect.
Furthermore, the Government’s failure to implement
repeated recommendations by mental health professionals to remove children
with their parents from detention amounted to “cruel, inhumane and
The Report is the result of two years of careful consideration
of evidence and submissions. The Inquiry visited all detention centres
in Australia and took evidence from a vast range of individuals and organisations
- detainee children and parents, human rights advocacy groups, medical
and legal experts, State governments, Australasian Correctional Management
(ACM) and the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous
Affairs (DIMIA) amongst others.
DIMIA and ACM were offered several opportunities to
make oral and written submissions to the Inquiry. The Inquiry treated
DIMIA and ACM’s responses, along with all other evidence, very seriously
in reaching its final conclusions.
Human Rights Commissioner Dr Sev Ozdowski said it was
time to release all children with their families from detention centres
and residential housing projects and for steps to be taken by federal
Parliament to ensure that no child who arrives in Australia ever suffers
under this system again.
“With every right there is a responsibility.
The Government has a right to develop its migration policy, but it has
a responsibility to uphold the conventions it has signed,” said
Dr Ozdowski. “Remember these are children with human rights. They
are not numbers, or acronyms.”
“There have been more than 2000 children in immigration
detention over the past few years. We can act to ensure we do not repeat
the mistakes we made in their care and treatment. We have the opportunity
to change the system to ensure these breaches do not happen again.”
“Last Christmas, there were more than 100 children
in detention centres and housing projects in Australia and there are still
a significant number of children in detention now,” Dr Ozdowski
said. “This is not ancient history. We are still abusing the rights
of children in detention today. Children are still behind barbed wire
The Commissioner called on the Government to release
all remaining children within four weeks, for federal Parliament to change
the law to ensure that detention is no longer the first and only resort
for asylum seeker children and to ensure that decisions about the detention
of children be made by an independent court.
“For a country that is a passionate advocate
of human rights internationally and is currently the Chair of the Human
Rights Commission at the United Nations, this is a great opportunity to
be a leader,” Dr Ozdowski said.
“All Australians should look at these findings,
read the examples and think of their children, their grandchildren or
the children of their friends and ask themselves – how would I feel
if my children were raised behind barbed wire and their human rights were
abused?” asked Dr Ozdowski.
“Almost 93 per cent of these families have been
accepted as ‘genuine refugees’ so why do we lock them up for
years behind barbed wire?” asked Dr Ozdowski.
“The treatment of some of these children has
left them severely traumatised and with long-term mental health problems.
Children with emotional and physical scars will be a legacy of our mandatory
detention policy,” the Commissioner said.
Click on the links below to access:
Commissioner Ozdowski will hold a press conference
to launch the Report on Friday, 14 May at 10.30am in the Commission conference
room (Level 8, 133 Castlereagh St, Sydney).
Media inquiries: Paul Oliver 02 9284 9677 or 0408 469 347 or James Iliffe 02 9284
Access the Media Pack
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Media Pack which provides valuable background information about the National
Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention. Click on the links to
the right to access these resources.
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