Health and legal bodies have used their submissions to an Australian Human Rights Commission inquiry into the treatment of children in immigration detention to warn that Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s guardianship of unaccompanied asylum seeker children is a conflict of interests, and to call for independent protection for children in detention.
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP), Law Council of Australia, and the Commissioner for Children and Young People Western Australia want to see the establishment of an independent guardian for unaccompanied children.
RANZCP told the AHRC inquiry Mr Morrison’s roles of “guardian” and “manager of detention operations” represent a conflict of interest.
“Whilst the Minister delegates most of the daily responsibilities to a ‘delegated guardian’ in each facility, this [Department of Immigration and Border Protection] employee often has another role… which could be seen to further compound and limit the capacity of the “guardian” to advocate for or consider the best interests on the children nominally in their care,” said the submission.
RANZCP expressed concern about the lack of independent psychiatric advice on asylum seekers’ mental health and called for an independent body to review and monitor the management of detained children’s physical and mental health.
“RANZCP is concerned that the Immigration Health Advisory Group (IHAG) has been disbanded and there are currently no independent psychiatrists representing the College providing advice when mental health problems are the major health issue facing asylum seekers,” said the submission.
A submission from the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law argued that the Commonwealth Children’s Commissioner should take over the guardianship role.
The inquiry has also received submissions from children currently held in immigration detention. A 17-year-old asylum seeker wrote the following poem, titled 'Dear Bird Send My Message', to Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, expressing feelings of dehumanisation.
“Dear bird send my message. Send an image of my eyes – to Abbott – where tears are rolling like a river, send my heart full of sorrow, send my mind full of thoughts, send him images of why I came. Dear bird send my message. Send my emotions to Morrison who is enjoying my pain, who does not think that I am a human being like him, who thinks that I am just a number the waste of population.”
Another child asylum seeker wrote of their determination to escape from detention and hopes of becoming a journalist in Australia.
“I will tell them: I didn't have a choice. When they say: Doesn't it hurt you to remember? I will answer them: it is past. When they ask: What are you planning now? What do you want to be in the future? I will answer them: I am planning to live in Australia and I want to be a journalist. They will ask: what about if they send you somewhere else? And I will say: AS LONG AS BREATHE I WILL REACH MY GOALS”
In April, AHRC President Professor Gillian Triggs told a public hearing in Sydney there were 929 children held in Australia’s detention centres and 177 children in detention on Nauru as of February.
According to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, there were 833 children held in detention centres as of April this year.
The AHRC launched its inquiry into the impact of detention of children’s physical and mental health, and how children are being assessed before being sent offshore, in February.
It is the Commission’s second inquiry since 2004, which found children detained for long periods of time were at significant risk of mental illness and post-traumatic symptoms.
There is currently no independent body overseeing the wellbeing of minors in detention.
Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Scott Morrison is the legal guardian for detained and unaccompanied children.
But the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees states a guardian for unaccompanied asylum seeker children should be from an accredited organisation, and that the guardian should have expertise in childcare.
The Australian Healthcare and Hospital Association told the inquiry a lack of transparency in regards to detention centres means it impossible to determine whether the delivery of health services for children were adequate.
“It is not possible to determine if the health services being delivered in onshore or offshore immigration detention centres are efficient or sustainable, as the framework for review which exists to measure the productivity of all other health services are not used… and the independent Immigration Health Advisory Group has been dismantled,” said the submission.
The Commissioner for Children and Young People Western Australia wants to see independent scrutiny of detention facilities holding children.
“When it is considered necessary to place children and young people in immigration detention it is important that… independent, external scrutiny of immigration detention facilities takes place to ensure the wellbeing of all children and young people is maintained,” their submission said.
The Department of Immigration and Border Protection’s submission rejected claims of a conflict of interest over the guardianship of unaccompanied asylum seeker children.
“It is the Department’s view that the practical arrangements underpinning the guardianship framework outlined in the IGOC Act [Immigration Guardianship of Children Act 1946] are of equal importance to the legislative framework itself.”
“To that end, the Department ensures that the broad range of services and activities provided to those children for whom the Minister is guardian appropriately meet their individual needs.”
DIBP also said while significant improvements had been made in the delivery of services to children since the AHRC’s last report, it remains open to scrutiny.
“While the Department has made significant improvements over the past decade to the services delivered to children, we are always mindful of further opportunities to continue to improve the work we do, and remain open to scrutiny,” said the submission.
The inquiry received more than 200 submissions of which 45 have been published so far.
Donate To New Matilda
New Matilda is a small, independent media outlet. We survive through reader contributions, and never losing a lawsuit. If you got something from this article, giving something back helps us to continue speaking truth to power. Every little bit counts.