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Byron Shire
January 26, 2022

Minister must release children from detention

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Australasia’s largest specialist medical college, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP), is calling on the minister for immigration and border protection to release every child from Australian immigration detention ahead of his appearance at today’s final public hearing for the Australian Human Rights Commission’s (AHRC) inquiry into children in immigration detention.

No child should be in immigration detention.

Earlier this week the minister acknowledged publicly that the harsh conditions on Nauru and Christmas Island were ‘stopping more children coming on the boats’.

This admission that the health and well being of hundreds of innocent children is being sacrificed is unacceptable. We also urge the government to stop using children in immigration detention for political point scoring.

The RACP welcomed the government’s decision earlier this week to release some children and families from Australian mainland detention facilities but said the decision did not go far enough because the vast majority of children remain detained based on their age or arrival date.

More clarity is needed from the federal government regarding this week’s announcement as well as an assurance that children and families’ access to health services will not be reduced upon their release into the community.

We hold grave concerns for the health of the 331 vulnerable children in offshore detention on Nauru and on Christmas Island, and particularly unaccompanied children.

The health of children in offshore detention was most at risk because of their limited access to appropriate health services and the harsh conditions of the detention environment.

The government must act now and move children from offshore detention into the community to protect their health.

The health of unaccompanied children in immigration detention remains a particular concern for the College, which will be the focus of evidence presented at today’s public hearing.

There is clearly a conflict of interest where the minister, as the legal guardian for unaccompanied children, is responsible both for placing them in detention and for acting in their best interests.

While ultimately we want to see every child removed from immigration detention, in the interim we are urging the government to appoint an independent guardian for unaccompanied minors.

Many unaccompanied children on Christmas Island are now displaying symptoms consistent with major depression, PTSD and/or generalised anxiety disorders.

These children have been living with uncertainty over their futures for over 12 months now and fear being transferred to Nauru.

If the minister were taking his responsibility as their guardian seriously, he would not be leaving them behind bars for any longer.

The RACP continues to advocate to protect the health of people seeking asylum, with 25 recommendations to the federal government as part of its submission to the AHRC inquiry.

Professor Nicholas Talley (president), Associate Professor Karen Zwi


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