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Global_18

Arena Politics Compassionate Australians campaign for a rethink in the treatment of asylum seekers at a demonstration in Melbourne into children in immigration detention. The purpose of this inquiry, the findings of which will be handed to the government, is to investigate the ways in which life in immigration detention affects the health, well-being and development of children. It has been ten years since an inquiry into these issues was first begun. “Conditions are poor to very bad in the detention centres,” says Trigg. “Mental health issues are strongly emerging. It’s horrible to see children in detention and extremely distressing. We hope the government will listen to our recommendations. No other country does this to children. What we are doing other countries don’t have the need to – it is an exceptional phenomenon that we hold children and their families in detention for so long.” For Dr Graham Thom, Amnesty International Australia’s refugee co-ordinator, the Australian Human Rights Commission’s enquiry into children in detention is key and the search for asylum a fundamental human right. “We have seen large numbers of children detained since 1992 when mandatory detention was introduced, but what we are seeing now is people being detained on Nauru and Manus Island,” he says. “Nauru is of interest to us because families and unaccompanied minors are being sent to a remote island where access is difficult and we are seeing how that detention is damaging adults and children – both physically and psychologically. “Amnesty International has been dismayed. Australia is in full breach of its international obligations. This has been backed up by the UNHCR and even the UN Commissioner, Navi Pillay, came out recently and criticised Australia for what it is doing. The sad reality is we have children fleeing violence all around the world but what is most distressing is that a first world country like Australia has the resources to do something positive but instead is putting in place truly awful systems that are only going to damage these children further,” he says. But as the United Nations and other human rights groups across the world criticise and question Australia’s motivations, and the Abbott government continues its ‘climate of terror’, the Australian Human Rights Commission and Amnesty International are deeply committed to fighting for the rights of those that seek protection in Australia. Both organisations stress that the lines of communication with the government must remain open at all times and access to detention centres more easily accessible. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection and the Australian Labor Party were both approached in relation to this article, but neither granted me an interview. Prime Minister Tony Abbott spoke about asylum seekers during an interview on Australian breakfast show Wake Up in January, saying: “The public wants the boats stopped and that’s really my determination – to stop the boats.” He added: “Let’s remember that everyone in these centres is there because he or she has come illegally to Australia by boat. They have done something that they must have known was wrong. We don’t apologise for the fact that they’re not five star or even three star hotels. Nevertheless, we are confident that we are well and truly discharging our humanitarian obligations. People are housed, they’re clothed, they’re fed, they’re given medical attention, they’re kept as safe as we can make it for them. We want them to go back to the country from which they came – that’s what we want.” Thom believes the treatment of asylum seekers by the Abbott government is embarrassing for Australia. “A country like this, at the forefront of refugee protection for the past 50 years, is now being criticised internationally for its policies. We really want to make it clear it’s not an example that should be followed as it’s putting the health and well-being of very vulnerable refugees at risk,” he said. Donald Horne’s now famous words were meant as a wake-up call to a country that cared little about its role on the global stage. But 50 years on, Australia still clings to the draconian belief that it is ‘the lucky country’. However, there is a growing resistance to the policies of the Abbott government from a small minority of Australians who want humility and compassion brought to the debate. They may be battling with the majority for a long time. Kylie Field is an Australian journalist based in Sydney and Cambridge, UK 42 l www.global -br ief ing.org second quar ter 2014 global  John Englart (Takver) Creative Commons by S.A 2.0


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