Australia- Refugee Children to be moved to detention centres

May 1, 2013
Mark Kenny

Mark Kenny, SMH

Chief political correspondent


Darwin's Wickham Point centre for families.Darwin’s Wickham Point centre for families. Photo: Glenn Campbell

Children will again be held in mainland detention centres, with authorities setting aside a compound at Darwin’s Wickham Point centre for families.

It is a significant shift for Labor, which has maintained a long-time opposition to detaining children. Staff have been told that minors could be held within the centre by the end of the week.

A Department of Immigration spokeswoman said work had been done to make the compound suitable for families, who would be held separately to adult men.

An Afghani family seeking asylum in are processed by Australian Customs and Dept of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) after their arrival at Flying Fish Cove, Christmas Island.Seeking a new life: An Afghan family being checked after arriving at Christmas IslandPhoto: Wolter Peeters

Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor has also confirmed he is considering sending children to a modified section of the Curtin detention centre in Western Australia.

The news comes as the Gillard government‘s parliamentary secretary for mental health, Melissa Parke, called for an independent inquiry into conditions at the offshore processing centres on Manus Island and Nauru.

Ms Parke said she was disturbed by the images and reports of conditions at the two centres by credible witnesses on the ABC’s Four Corners program.

”I knew of the likelihood of problems, but the program revealed a quite serious situation and I would like an independent assessment of the adequacy of the facilities and their impact on the mental and physical health of asylum seekers, especially children,” she told Fairfax Media.

Although Ms Parke was appointed parliamentary secretary for mental health, homelessness and social housing in the February reshuffle, the mental health of those in offshore detention facilities is Mr O’Connor’s responsibility.

”I don’t think as parliamentary secretary for mental health that I cannot recognise a serious situation when it’s staring me in the face – as it did last night on Four Corners,” she said.

Ms Parke said she would discuss the issue with fellow MPs. ”This is happening, so I think you need to face up to it and deal with it.”

Dr John Valentine, a former International Health and Medical Services worker, said he had tried in vain to warn authorities that the Manus Island camp did not have sufficient medical supplies and equipment to care for children.

Despite this, he said, authorities had sent a severely anaphylactic young boy and a nine-year-old girl with anaemia and a reported history of blood transfusions to the camp.

”The whole time I was there it was just a disaster, medically,” Dr Valentine said. ”They ought not to be in Manus Island.”

Opposition immigration minister Scott Morrison said he believed the government was preparing to act on the concerns.

”We understand that the government has now taken the decision that will see families taken off Manus Island in the course of the next week or so,” Mr Morrison said. ”The Coalition had always questioned the government’s decision to put families on Manus Island. We’ve always said that the better place to do that would be on Nauru.”

But Mr O’Connor said no decision had been made to remove children from Manus.

”I haven’t been contemplating a change to the composition of people on Manus … the composition will not change on Manus province because, if we were to do that, we will see an increase in the composition of people getting on unseaworthy vessels and we will see therefore more likely an increase in the fatality of children and women.”

Meanwhile, Amnesty International said on Tuesday said that Sri Lanka was intensifying its crackdown on critics and increasing human rights abuses.

It said those who criticised the conduct of the government during the island’s civil war – including the media, the judiciary, rights activists and opposition politicians – were particularly at risk.

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