Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has today announced a number of children held in immigration detention are to be released into the community while awaiting processing, as evidence of the harm done detention facilities continues to mount, and the Minister awaits his own appearance before the Australian Human Right’s Commission’s Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention on Friday.
Details remain vague about how the releases will work, but a statement issued by Mr Morrison today indicated children in Australian facilities would be moved on to bridging visas, which would see them released from detention facilities and placed in communities.
The release said support would be given to the children and their families to help them gain transitional accommodation, access to schools, intensive case management services, and programs to help them adapt to community life in Australia.
However, children held on Christmas Island and Nauru and those who arrived after mandatory offshore settlement was introduced by Labor in July 2013 will not be affected by the changes. There are a significant number of children in detention facilities in Australia who arrived after July 19, and are currently onshore for medical reasons.
Morrison’s announcement only referred to children under the age of 10, meaning it remains unclear exactly how many children the changes will actually affect.
Official Department of Immigration statistics do not break down the number of children in detention by age, showing only the total number of under 18-year-olds held in various locations.
The Human Rights Commission’s Inquiry has so far heard evidence that children held in offshore detention centres have experienced serious harm likely to leave a permanent psychological impact.
The Inquiry has also heard that even children being held in onshore detention centres have experienced serious psychological issues as a result of their incarceration.
In an opinion piece in today’s Daily Telegraph, Morrison attacked Labor for allowing the number of asylum seekers attempting to come to Australia to rise, arguing this had greatly increased the number of children in immigration detention facilities. He portrayed today’s announcement as kind-hearted.
“These changes represent good policy, common sense and a compassionate response to dealing with this significant problem,” he wrote.
However, refugee advocates have already expressed scepticism about the announcement, and its timing.
Sophie Peer, a spokesperson for Children Out of Detention, told Guardian Australia that the news was a cruel blow to children being held in offshore detention.
“In essence the government said they would always do this. To do it with fanfare this week when Morrison is going to be appearing at the human rights commission [inquiry into children in detention]is political point scoring,” she said.
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