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Australia PM savages study into detention of asylum-seeker children

12 february 2015, 18:10
0

 Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Thursday savaged a Human Rights Commission report into the struggles of asylum-seeker children held in detention as "blatantly partisan" and said he had no guilt "whatsoever", AFP reports.

In a damning report to parliament, the government-funded commission said its 10-month investigation of 11 detention centres found widespread sexual assault, self-harm and severe mental disorders among children locked up.

"There appears to be no rational explanation for the prolonged detention of children," stated the report titled "The Forgotten Children".

"The mandatory and prolonged immigration detention of children is in clear violation of international human rights law."

Australia has long come under international pressure over the detention of asylum-seekers arriving by boat, particularly in offshore camps on the Indian Ocean territory of Christmas Island and on Nauru and Manus Island in the Pacific.

The numbers of children in immigration detention peaked at 1,992 in mid-2013 under the former Labor administration, but they have been significantly reduced to several hundred since the Abbott-led government was elected in September 2013.

An angry Abbott said his policies to stop the boats had cut the numbers in detention and questioned why the report was not launched when Labor was in power.

"Frankly this is a blatantly partisan politicised exercise and the Human Rights Commission ought to be ashamed of itself," he told Fairfax Radio.

"Where was the human rights commission when hundreds of people were drowning at sea? Where was the human rights commission when there were almost 2,000 children in detention?"

Under the government's tough stance, boats are turned away at sea and anyone who makes it to Australia is denied resettlement and instead sent to camps in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

Only one boatload of asylum-seekers has reached the Australian mainland since December 2013. Before this, boats were arriving almost daily, with hundreds of people dying en route.

   Deeply shocking 

 The study, which covered 1,233 interviews with children and their parents between January 2013 to March 2014, records 233 assaults involving a child and 33 incidents of reported sexual assault.

Some 128 children harmed themselves while there were 27 cases of voluntary starvation.

Human Rights Commission chief Gillian Triggs said both sides of politics were responsible and described the report as unprecedented first-hand evidence of the impact that prolonged immigration detention has on a child's mental and physical health.

The average time children are held is one year and two months and Triggs said the findings on mental health disorders in particular were "deeply shocking".

"Thirty-four percent of children detained in Australia and Christmas Island have a mental health disorder of such severity that they require psychiatric support," she said.

"Fewer than two percent of children in the general community have mental health disorders of this severity. Children are self-harming in detention at very high rates."

Asked whether he felt any guilt over the findings in the 315-page report, Abbott replied: "None whatsoever."

"The most compassionate thing you can do is stop the boats. We have stopped the boats."

The report called for all children and their families in immigration detention to be released into the community and also urged changes to the Migration Act so that children may only be detained for a strictly limited period.

It recommended that a national inquiry, or royal commission, be established to examine the policy of mandatory detention and to consider remedies for breaches of the country's duty of care to detained children.


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