Counterpunch: our asylum kids policy is working well
Australia’s treatment of asylum seeker children and our successful program placing minors in community accommodation was misrepresented and maligned in the inaccurate piece by Sophie Peer on The Punch yesterday.
In October 2010, Prime Minister Julia Gillard and I announced a program to move the majority of asylum seeker children into community accommodation by the middle of 2011.
At that time there were around 700 children in immigration detention facilities and, despite the marked increase in boat arrivals that followed, we met that commitment and today continue to move children and vulnerable people into the community as quickly as possible.
Community detention is a typically polarising immigration issue and there is a lot said about it. There are those that use it for cheap political point scoring, as the Coalition did by unashamedly claiming children and asylum seekers suffering from torture and trauma get more than they deserve. Others claim not enough is being done.
The piece on The Punch by Sophie Peer falls in the latter category, but unfortunately misrepresents what occurs for asylum seeker children in Australia.
I am personally very proud of our community detention program. This Government takes its responsibility for the care of asylum seeker minors and especially unaccompanied minors very seriously, which is why we’re so committed to this program.
To date, more than 3,400 people have been released into community accommodation under this program – and that includes almost 1,600 minors.
There are currently more than 630 asylum seeker children in community arrangements, which is over 63 per cent of all minors in immigration detention – not 50 per cent as claimed by Ms Peer.
Children are only held in immigration detention while appropriate accommodation and carers can be found – if we had more accommodation and carers to meet their needs we would release them faster.
This Government gets children out of detention as quickly as possible and quicker than ever before. But because we believe it is necessary to provide kids with appropriate accommodation, care and support services, it can sometimes take longer to move them out of detention facilities.
While other countries – as Ms Peer pointed out – may have models that do not involve detaining children, the level of support Australia provides for children in the community (including accommodation and schooling) exceeds that of just about every other country in the world.
We do not apologise for this, our concern is to get the best possible outcome for children while their asylum claims are being assessed – a point Ms Peer neglects to recognise.
It is worth mentioning that while they await community placement, children are kept in low-security facilities with access to carers, schooling, a range of activities and regular excursions.
Children spend only a matter of weeks – at the very most – on Christmas Island. This is so that children can undertake necessary checks before they are moved to the mainland, such as age determination and public health screening, which also allow us to identify any particular vulnerabilities that require specialist care.
As for the immigration accommodation at Leonora, it is a transitional facility and children only remain at Leonora for a short period of time before they are moved into the community. At Leonora, children have access to educational services, regular activities and an excursions program.
Under this Government, minors are spending less time in detention than ever before. For example, all eligible unaccompanied minors who arrived in Australia prior to 7 December 2011 have been moved into community arrangements.
All eligible accompanied children who arrived in Australia prior to 20 November 2011 have also been moved into community arrangements. The small number of children who arrived prior to these dates and who remain in detention are not eligible for community detention due to security, behaviour or risk requirements.
As I myself advised Sophie Peer only last week, the only barrier for getting children out of detention faster is the availability of housing and support services. This is not a matter of throwing resources at the problem – it is about the basic availability of appropriate accommodation and fully trained and qualified carers. NGOs such as the Red Cross are working closely with my department to make that happen.
It is certainly a more effective way to get children out of detention faster than simply shouting from the sidelines.
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