Australian NGOs Demand That Government Ends Detention of Refugee Children
“The clock is ticking.”
Australia’s leading human rights organizations are calling on the country’s government to end the detention of 120 asylum-seeking children and their families on Nauru Island by Nov. 20, Universal Children’s Day, according to the nonprofit World Vision.
The #KidsOffNauru campaign calls on the government to either bring the children and their families to Australia or relocate them in a safe third country. The ongoing detention of the children on Nauru, the organizations argue, is a human rights violation.
“The clock is ticking,” Claire Rogers, CEO of World Vision, said in a statement. “This harmful, secretive, and dysfunctional system of indefinite detention must end.”
#KidsOffNauru is the latest campaign over many years designed to end Australia’s policy of detaining asylum seekers in offshore detention facilities, remote locations cut off from access to adequate health care, shelter, freedom of movement, and more.
Ending the detention of children is especially urgent, the groups argue, because of the long-term psychological consequences they can face.
“Many of them have lived for years in tents, they have been separated from close family members and have no safe place to play or access to acceptable medical care,” Rogers said. “And no hope.”
Picture of George on Nauru island / World Vision
“I have seen a little girl for example who was 12 years old in a catatonic state who has not stepped out of her room in a month,” Indrika Ratwatte, senior UN refugee agency official, told reporters earlier in the year. “Clinical psychiatrists and professionals have determined that around 80 per cent of the asylum-seekers and refugees in Nauru and Manus as well are suffering from post-traumatic stress and depression. This is per capita one of the highest mental health problems levels that have been noted.”
At least 40 children, meanwhile, have been born in detention and know nothing else.
The Australian Medical Association has also called on the government to change its policies, the Guardian notes.
“The AMA repeats its call for a delegation of independent Australian health professions to be allowed to visit and examine the asylum seekers – adults and children – and report their condition to the Australian parliament and the Australian people,” Dr. Tony Bartone told the Guardian.
Since 2001, Australia has blocked asylum seekers from traveling to the country by boat, instead intercepting and rerouting vessels to processing centers on Manus and Nauru island, which are part of Papua New Guinea, where they stay until a form of resettlement is determined.
Thousands of asylum seekers are held in this manner by the Australian government, which has paid Papua New Guinea hundreds of millions of dollars for the service. In 2017, the primary holding center on Manus island was shut down due to a court order arguing that it constituted a human rights violation.
Australia tries to broker resettlement deals with other countries, allow refugees to gain citizenship in Papua New Guinea, or urge them go to their home countries.
In recent years, the US has agreed to take in 1,250 asylum seekers from the two islands and New Zealand has agreed to take 150.
Picture of Melanie on Nauru island / World Vision
US President Donald Trump, who had orchestrated a campaign of “zero tolerance” meant to separate migrant and asylum seeking children from their parents at the US border, has called his country’s participation in the deal “dumb.”
Australia has faced mounting global criticism over its approach to refugees in recent years and has reacted in a largely defensive matter. In July, Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton said that Australia will not sign The Global Compact on Migrants and Refugees, an agreement that seeks to bring dignity to the treatment of migrants and refugees.
“We’re not going to sign a deal that sacrifices anything in terms of our border protection policies,” Dutton told Sydney radio station 2GB. “We’ve fought hard for them.”