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Long custody harms child refugees in Aussie camps: Rights group

12 February 2015 16:23


A human rights body in Australia says hundreds of refugee children are suffering from prolonged detention in camps, mounting pressure on the Canberra government to reform its immigration laws.

A report by Australia’s Human Rights Commission (AHRC), titled “The Forgotten Children,” found that from January 2013 to March 2014, nearly 300 of over 1,100 children, aged between 12 to 17, had committed or threatened to commit self-harm in onshore and offshore detention centers like those in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

“The report cites medical data that shows 34 percent of children have been diagnosed with serious mental disorders,” Gillian Triggs, president of the Human Rights Commission, said in a statement released on Thursday.

The survey, which is the largest ever conducted of children in detention, also revealed that about 30 children were reportedly sexually assaulted, while nearly 30 went on hunger strike and some 200 were involved in some sort of assaults.

Triggs further said the lengthy detention of children breaches Australia’s international obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

Her comment comes as according to the report, the average duration of children’s detention has increased to 17 months since October last year, when it stood at 14 months.

Currently, there are 257 children in Australian immigration detention, including 119 on Nauru.

The report calls for the imprisoned children on Nauru to be integrated into the Australian community. It also stresses the need for the closing down of detention facilities of Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean as well as an independent guardian for unaccompanied children.

Meanwhile the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has voiced support for the release of children on Thursday, arguing that “detention is a dangerous place for children and can cause life-long harm. You can’t keep children safe in detention.”

The latest report comes as in January Asylums seekers in Australia-run detention centers in Manus Island stitched their lips and went on hunger strike to protest against their living conditions.

Under its harsh anti-immigration policy, Australia currently keeps all asylum seekers arriving by boat in custody, holding them in offshore processing camps. However, according to UNCRC, children are supposed to be detained only as a measure of “last resort.”

The United Nations and rights groups have criticized such asylum policies, saying the practice is illegal and inhumane.

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