Australia’s treatment of child asylum-seekers ‘abuse’: Churches

Australia’s treatment of child asylum-seekers ‘abuse’: Churches

SYDNEY - Agence France-Presse
Australia’s treatment of child asylum-seekers ‘abuse’: Churches

Sri Lankan children among a group of Sri Lankan asylum seekers sent back by Australia wait outside the magistrate's court in the southern port district of Galle on July 8. AFP Photo

The Australian government July 30 rejected a report from church leaders describing its treatment of child asylum-seekers as “state-sanctioned abuse,” saying such claims were “offensive.”

The report by a coalition of leaders from Christian churches criticizes how unaccompanied asylum-seeker children are kept in immigration detention.

“These children are held like animals in conditions that are inhumane, interrogated without support or representation, shipped around the country and offshore in the middle of the night, and denied basic rights, including education,” Anglican dean Peter Catt, who chaired the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce, said.

“Given that the government continues to ignore irrefutable independent evidence from health and legal experts about the plight of these children we have no hesitation in labelling this what it is – state-sanctioned child abuse.”       

Catt said Immigration Minister Scott Morrison should relinquish his role as the guardian of unaccompanied asylum-seeker children, saying it was a “sick joke” that he was “also their jailer.”

Asylum-seekers arriving in Australia by boat have long been held in detention while their claims for refugee status are assessed.

Under the hardline immigration policy introduced in mid-2013, these asylum-seekers are now sent to camps in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

They are also barred from being resettled in Australia even if their refugee claims are found to be valid.

Morrison’s spokeswoman said the allegations from the taskforce, which includes members from Anglican, Catholic, Salvation Army, Uniting Church and other denominations, were “shocking and offensive.”

“And the minister rejects these categorically,” she said in a statement.

“The government takes the protection of children very seriously and is committed to ensuring they are protected from exploitation and abuse.”       

The government was reducing the number of children in detention, she said.

The latest immigration department figures show 193 children are held on Nauru. A further 699 are kept on Christmas Island or in other places on mainland Australia.         

The levels of detention at these sites are down from a record number of almost 2,000 children, which was reached in June 2013.

The church report came a week after Australia’s human rights commissioner Gillian Triggs said conditions at the Christmas Island camp had “significantly deteriorated,” and that there was an unprecedented rate of self-harm among children.