By Alexandra Duval.
Edited for online by Paige Hasaballah.
Changes to Australia’s refugee processing will see families with children under 16 available for community release under bridging visas.
Under the current system, these families would be held in the Community Detention program for a transitional period.
Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor’s new proposal has caused further concern with children’s refugee activists.
Activists are worried after it was revealed a nine-year-old boy was held in detention on Christmas Island a week after his father died.
But ChilOut campaign director Sophie Peer says she is fearful support groups, such as Community Detention, will be abandoned completely under the new system.
“People will now be let out onto these bridging visas rather than into the Community Detention program, which was quite supportive of the family unit,” she says.
“We see people living close to the poverty line in this situation where they receive 89 per cent of the Newstart Allowance but have no work rights.”
Ms Peer says the case of the nine-year-old in detention on Christmas Island is an example of an immigration policy that is failing children.
“He is on Christmas Island, has obviously just suffered a huge amount of trauma from [losing] his father very suddenly, and the Minister is the one person who is supposed to act in his best interest, but the Minister is also the person who has the very power to detain him,” she says.
“Clearly the system is not working in favour of children’s rights.”
Ms Peer says there is still a great deal of ambiguity surrounding the specifics of how to deal with minors under these policies.
“There are many, many hundreds of children who come every year with no adult relatives and we simply do not know what exactly is supposed to happen with these children,” she says.
“We do not know if they stay in remote detention indefinitely or whether they are supposed to be integrated into society.”
Dr Mark Copland, the executive officer of the Social Justice Commission Catholic Diocese in Toowoomba, says minor refugees should not be in detention at all.
“We have a responsibility to especially care for children and be conscious not to use them in a political game,” he says.
“We should be worrying about their welfare first and then worry about the other implications second.”
University of Canberra psychology professor Amanda Gordon says the Federal Government has a responsibility to ensure the needs of all children be met regardless of nationality.
“Children are at risk because they have developed mental needs that must be met,” she says.
“They need to have a sense of security and place in the world, which will help them form an identity that is solid and appropriate and will turn them into good citizens of the world.”
Although the policy aims to put more refugees into the community can be seen as a positive first step, Ms Peer and Ms Gordon both agree the policy needs to be re-examined to consider the well being of minors.