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 genuine refugees.
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 degrading treatment”.
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 now.”
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.
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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 9880
Access the Media Pack
The Commission has developed a detailed 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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