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Following the release of ‘The Forgotten Children’ report this week, over 200 organisations, including ChildFund Australia, have added their support to a joint statement calling for legislative change to prevent future immigration detention of children.

February 13, 2015

Joint statement to end detention of children once and for all

Following the release of ‘The Forgotten Children’ report this week, over 200 organisations, including ChildFund Australia, have added their support to a joint statement calling for legislative change to prevent future immigration detention of children.

Joint statement by Australian organisations and community groups: 13 February, 2015

NEVER AGAIN: LET’S END THE DETENTION OF CHILDREN ONCE AND FOR ALL

The report of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention provides compelling evidence of the need for Australia to cease the detention of children once and for all. Drawing on interviews in detention facilities with more than 1000 children and their parents, the report offers a deeply disturbing record of the harm inflicted on so many children by successive governments. The Government, Opposition and all members of the Australian Parliament must take immediate action to ensure that all children are released from Australian-funded detention centres, in Australia and Nauru, and to ensure that these policies are never repeated.

The indefinite mass detention of children is a national disgrace for which both of Australia’s major political parties bear responsibility. Under the Rudd and Gillard Governments, record numbers of children were detained, reaching a peak of 1,992 in July 2013. Under the Abbott Government, hundreds of children have experienced prolonged detention, with the average time spent in detention rising from three months in August 2013 to more than 14 months in January 2015. In doing this, governments have ignored numerous reports, including from the Commission’s previous national inquiry in 2004, which have outlined detention’s shocking impacts on the mental health of children.

At the public hearings conducted as part of the inquiry, previous Ministers for Immigration Chris Bowen and Scott Morrison both acknowledged that the detention of children was not an effective mechanism for deterring boat arrivals or preventing deaths at sea.[1] Without a clear policy purpose, it is bewildering that this deeply harmful and exorbitantly costly practice has continued for so long.

For more than a decade under successive governments, we have watched Australia’s detention policies go through the same cycle: people are kept in indefinite detention unnecessarily for prolonged periods until the human and financial costs of doing so become so high as to compel the Government to make greater use of community-based alternatives. It is high time that we put an end to this cycle.

Australia is the only country in the world to detain children as its first option. In the United Kingdom, for example, the number of children simultaneously in UK immigration detention over the past three years has not exceeded four, a tiny fraction of the number detained by Australia.[2] The United Kingdom also has legislative limits on the detention of children which restrict the detention of families with children in pre-removal centres to a maximum of 72 hours, or seven days if authorised by the responsible minister.

Effective alternatives to detention already exist in Australia and have done so for a decade. We urge the Australian Government to expand the use of these alternatives, ensure that they are used routinely for children and families and develop safe alternatives to detention for children now detained in Nauru.

We reject the argument that the welfare of asylum seeker children sent to Nauru is the sole responsibility of the Government of Nauru. The harm being inflicted on children detained there is a direct result of Australia’s actions. Australia was responsible for sending children and their families to Nauru against their will, in full knowledge that they would face prolonged indefinite detention. Australia remains responsible for funding the detention centre in Nauru; indeed, without Australia’s support, the centre would cease to operate.

After the Commission’s 2004 report into the detention of children, the Australian Government pledged that children would be detained only as a last resort. As the Commission’s new report clearly shows, such non-binding political promises are meaningless. We urge the Australian Parliament to:

  • Introduce legislation to prevent children from being detained for immigration purposes in the future.
  • End the offshore processing of asylum claims and return all asylum seekers currently subject to offshore processing to Australia, prioritising children and their families.
  • Refer allegations of child sexual abuse in Australian-funded detention centres to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

As the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has ruled, the detention of a child because of their or their parent’s migration status constitutes a child rights violation and always contravenes the principle of the best interests of the child.[3] So long as Australia continues to detain children as a measure of first rather than last resort; so long as our laws fail to protect children against prolonged indefinite detention; so long as any child remains in detention as a result of Australia’s actions, we will be failing in our duty to protect the best interests of children in our care.

We have comprehensive, consistent and irrefutable evidence of the harm caused by prolonged indefinite detention. We have practical, humane and effective solutions at our disposal. It’s time to end the detention of children once and for all. It’s time to stand up and say: never again.

This statement is supported by:

Refugee Council of Australia (statement coordinator)

A Just Cause

ACT Council of Social Service

ActionAid Australia

Adventist Development and Relief Agency Australia

Ahmadiyya Muslim Association of Australia

Aireys Inlet Rural Australians for Refugees

Amnesty International Australia

Anglican Social Responsibilities Commission, Diocese of Perth

Apollo Bay Rural Australians for Refugees

Asia Pacific Journalism Centre

Association for Services to Torture and Trauma Survivors (ASeTTS)

Association for the Wellbeing of Children in Health

Asylum Insight

Asylum Seeker Resource Centre

Asylum Seekers Centre

Auburn Diversity Services Inc

Australian Afghan Hassanian Youth Association

Australian Anti-Bases Campaign Coalition

Australian Baptist Ministries

Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office

Australian Catholic Social Justice Council

Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce

Australian Coalition to End Immigration Detention of Children

Australian Council For International Development

Australian Council of Social Service

Australian Council of Trade Unions

Australian Doctors International

Australian Jewish Democratic Society

Australian Lasallian (Asia-Pacific) Foundation

Australian Lutheran World Service

Australian National Committee on Refugee Women

Australian Refugee Association

Australia-Tamil Solidarity

Ballarat Catholic Diocesan Social Justice Commission

Ballarat Community Health

Balmain for Refugees

Baptcare (Victoria and Tasmania)

Baptist Care Australia

Baptistcare Incorporated (WA)

Bayside Refugee and Advocacy Association

Bellarine for Refugees

Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group

B’nai B’rith Australia/New Zealand

Border Crossing Observatory, Monash University

Braidwood Rural Australians for Refugees

Bridge for Asylum Seekers Foundation

Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project

Brisbane Refugee and Asylum Seeker Support Network (BRASS)

Broadway and Glebe Catholic Social Justice Group

Burmese Rohingya Community in Australia

Campus Refugee Rights Club, University of Melbourne

Canberra Refugee Support

Caritas Australia

Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne, Office of Justice and Peace

Catholic Diocese of Darwin

Catholic Diocese of Parramatta, Social Justice Office

Catholic Diocese of Toowoomba, Social Justice Commission

Catholic Immigration Office (Sydney)

Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, Archdiocese of Brisbane

Catholic Social Justice Commission, Archdiocese of Canberra-Goulburn

Catholic Social Services Australia

Catholics in Coalition for Justice and Peace

Centacare South West NSW

Central Victorian Refugee Support Network

Centre for Advocacy Support and Education for Refugees

Centre for Human Rights Education, Curtin University

Centre for Multicultural Youth

Centre for Refugee Research, University of NSW

Centrecare (WA)

ChildFund Australia

Children’s Healthcare Australasia

Children’s Rights International

ChilOut

Christian Brothers Oceania

Christian Brothers Tasmania

Coalition for Asylum Seekers, Refugees and Detainees

Coalition for Justice and Peace in Palestine (Sydney)

cohealth

Combined Refugee Action Group

Common Grace

Communicare

Community Migrant Resource Centre

Conference of Leaders of Religious Institutes in NSW

Council of Social Service of NSW

Cyber Christian Community WA

Darwin Asylum Seekers’ Support and Advocacy Network

Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Overseas Aid Fund

Domestic Violence Service Management

Dominican Sisters of Eastern Australia and the Solomon Islands

Edmund Rice Centre Mirrabooka

Edmund Rice Centre Sydney

Edmund Rice Network Tasmania

Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria

Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia

Federation of Liberian Communities in Australia

FHEAL Foundation

Fitzroy Learning Network

Geelong Interchurch Social Justice Network

Geelong Refugee Action and Information Network

Global Campaign to End Immigration Detention of Children

God’s Dwelling Place Bethany City Church

Habitat for Humanity Australia

Help – Himalayan Youth Foundation

Horn of Africa Relief and Development Agency

House of Hospitality, Broadmeadow (NSW)

House of Welcome

House of Welcome Ballarat

Humanitarian Research Partners

Hunter Ecumenical Social Justice Network

Immigration Advice and Rights Centre

Independent and Peaceful Australia Network (NSW)

Indigenous Social Justice Association

International Commission of Jurists Australia

International Detention Coalition

International Society for Human Rights – Australia

Islamic Council of Victoria

Islamic Relief Australia

Jesuit Refugee Service Australia

Jesuit Social Services

Josephite Community Aid

Justice Connect

Justice for Palestine Matters, Sydney

Justice, Ecology and Development Office, Catholic Archdiocese of Perth

Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission, Carmelites of Australia and Timor Leste

Kommonground

Labor for Refugees

Lentara UnitingCare

Loddon Campaspe Multicultural Services

Loreto Sisters of Australia and South East Asia

MacKillop Family Services

Marist Sisters

Marrickville Peace Group

Melaleuca Refugee Centre

Mercy Community Services

Mercy Works

Migrant Resource Centre of South Australia

Missionaries of the Sacred Heart Justice and Peace Centre

Multicultural Council of Tasmania

Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network Australia

Nonlethal Security for Peace Campaign

Northern Settlement Services

NSW Teachers Federation

NT Council of Social Service

Occupational Opportunities for Refugees and Asylum Seekers

Oromia Support Group Australia

Oxfam Australia

Partners Relief and Development Australia

Pax Christi Australia

Pax Christi Queensland

Pax Christi Victoria

Peace and Justice Commission, NSW Ecumenical Council

Peace and Social Justice Network, Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)

Plan International Australia

Presentation People’s Social Justice Group, Ballina

Presentation Sisters Lismore

Presentation Sisters Queensland

Presentation Sisters Wagga Wagga

Quakers, WA Regional Meeting

Queenscliff Rural Australians for Refugees

Refugee Advice and Casework Service

Refugee Advocacy Network

Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre

Rural Australians for Refugees, Bendigo

Rural Australians for Refugees, Daylesford and District

Safe Asylum

Salvation Army – Eastern Territory

Sanctuary Australia Foundation

Save the Children Australia

SCALES Community Legal Centre

SCARF Inc, Illawarra

Settlement Council of Australia

Settlement Services International

Sisters of St Joseph

Sisters of the Good Samaritan

Sisters of the Little Company of Mary, Australia

Social Justice Ministry, Catholic Parish of Chatswood

Sophia’s Spring Uniting Church, East Brunswick

Spring Creek Community House

St Bede’s Social Justice Group, Braidwood

St Vincent de Paul Society National Council of Australia

Stand Up: Jewish Commitment to a Better World

Surf Coast Rural Australians for Refugees

Sydney Justice and Peace Coalition

Sydney Multicultural Community Services

Tasmanian Asylum Seeker Support

Tasmanian Catholic Justice and Peace Commission

Tasmanian Council of Social Service

The Grail Australia (NSW)

The Tasmania Opportunity

Townsville Multicultural Support Group

Trinity Aid for Refugees

Union of Australian Women Victoria

Uniting Church in Australia

Victorian Council of Social Service

Vietnamese Overseas Initiative for Conscience Empowerment (VOICE) Australia

WA Council of Social Service

Warrnambool Rural Australians for Refugees

West Wagga San Isidore Refugee Committee

Western Region Ethnic Communities Council

Western Sydney Community Forum

Women and the Australian Church

Women’s Health in the South East

World Wellness Group Ltd

[1] Former Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said that detention was not an effective deterrent and that the cost on children was too great for any deterrence value. See Bowen, Chris, Testimony at the AHRC Public Hearings on 9 September 2014 (page 1), available at https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/Hon%20Chris%20Bowen.pdf; When asked if the purpose of long-term detention [is] to deter people from coming to Australia by boat?, Minister Scott Morrison said “no”. See Morrison, Scott, Testimony at the AHRC Public Hearings on 22 August 2014 (page 25), available at https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/Hon%20Scott%20Morrison%20Mr%20Bowles.pdf

[2] A comparison of quarterly statistics for the detention of children in Australia and the UK from 2012 to 2014, compiled by Refugee Council of Australia, can be found at http://bit.ly/1CcOG6a.

[3] Committee on the Rights of the Child, The Rights of all Children in the Context of International Migration: Report of the 2012 Day of General Discussion, paragraph 78, http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/crc/docs/discussion2012/ReportDGDChildrenAndMigration2012.pdf