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Australia: Disturbing report on children in detention presents opportunity for change
February 16, 2015

Australia: Disturbing report on children in detention presents opportunity for change
“These findings are extremely disturbing and prove what human rights groups and mental health professionals have been telling the government for years: that detention is a dangerous place and is harmful to children,” says Oliver White, Head of Policy and Advocacy at Jesuit Refugee Service Australia.
"It's now well-documented ... that children in detention are exposed to disturbing incidents such as assault and hunger strikes, that some of them have been subjected to sexual assault and many resort to self-harm."

(Kings Cross, NSW) February 16, 2015 — Jesuit Refugee Service Australia says a report on asylum-seeking children in detention highlights the extreme failure of the government’s refugee and asylum policy, and presents an opportunity for long-overdue change.

The Australian Human Rights Commission’s (AHRC) National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention report was tabled in Parliament this week. It found that the prolonged detention of asylum-seeking children has severe negative impacts on their health and development, with 34 per cent of children detained in Australian centres displaying signs of serious mental illness that require a referral to a mental health professional. This compares with just two per cent in the general population.

"These findings are extremely disturbing and prove what human rights groups and mental health professionals have been telling the government for years: that detention is a dangerous place and is harmful to children," says Oliver White, Head of Policy and Advocacy at Jesuit Refugee Service Australia.

"It's now well-documented, thanks to the AHRC’s report, that children in detention are exposed to disturbing incidents such as assault and hunger strikes, that some of them have been subjected to sexual assault and many resort to self-harm."

While the report acknowledges that mental health and wellbeing improves dramatically once a child is released, it also demonstrates that the harm caused is ongoing, sometimes effecting children into adulthood.

By detaining children in this way, Australia is breaching its international obligations under human rights law: Australia is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child which clearly states that children should only be detained as a last resort and for the shortest period of time; they should not be detained arbitrarily; they should have the right to challenge their detention in a court of law; and the best interests of the child should always be taken into consideration.

While the government has made progress in relocating children held on Christmas Island to the Australian mainland, 330 children remain in detention — 211 in mainland facilities and 119 on Nauru. JRS says the report — the first of its kind undertaken in ten years — presents the government with an opportunity to acknowledge the flaws inherent in its refugee policy and to utilise existing alternatives that will align it with other, less punitive, countries.

"We welcome the fact that the majority of children have been released from detention, but those who remain are vulnerable to the conditions that have now been exposed by the AHRC’s report," says Mr White.

Furthermore, there are no legal measures in place which prevent children from being detained for immigration purposes in the future.

"The government can no longer claim ignorance about the long-term psychological damage that detention causes to children, and we echo the AHRC’s recommendation that legislation be enacted to ensure that children may be detained under the Migration Act for only so long as is necessary for health, identity and security checks," says Mr White.

"The findings of this report document the harm caused to children who have come to this country seeking safety. This is an opportunity for the government to take stock, reflect on the effects of current policy and make a positive change."

For further information

Oliver White
Head of Policy and Advocacy
JRS Australia


JRS Australia staff regularly visit asylum seekers held in a number of detention centers in the country, offering psychosocial and pastoral care to nearly 5,000 people in 2014. Teams also provides a small number of refugees in vulnerable circumstances with emergency and longer-term accommodation, and assists with legal aid, preparation for employment, healthcare, English lessons and financial management. Based on their close proximity to refugees, JRS supports initiatives and efforts for lasting policy change by both national refugee agencies and the International Detention Coalition (IDC).

Jesuit Refugee Service/USA is a Region of an international Catholic non-governmental organization whose mission is to accompany, serve and advocate for the rights of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons. 

To accompany means to be a companion. We are companions of Jesus, so we wish to be companions of those with whom he preferred to be associated, the poor and the outcast. JRS services are made available to refugees and displaced persons regardless of their race, ethnic origin, or religious beliefs. JRS advocates for just and generous policies and programs for the benefit of victims of forced displacement, so that those made vulnerable by exile can receive support and protection and durable solution to their plight can be achieved. 

JRS/USA witnesses to God's presence in vulnerable and often forgotten people driven from their homes by conflict, natural disaster, economic injustice, or violation of their human rights.  

As one of the ten geographic regions of Jesuit Refugee Service, JRS/USA serves as the major refugee outreach arm of U.S. Jesuits and their institutional ministries, mobilizing their response to refugee situations in the U.S. and abroad. Through our advocacy and fund raising efforts, JRS/USA provides support for the work of JRS throughout the world.  

JRS/USA gives help, hope, ear and voice to vulnerable people on the move by being present to and bearing witness to their plight; by relieving their human suffering and restoring hope; by addressing the root causes of their displacement and improving international responses to refugee situations. 

In addition, JRS/USA inspires the Ignatian family and others to respond together to the needs of refugees and displaced persons worldwide and forges strong partnerships with like-minded institutions and agencies devoted to the cause of refugees and displaced persons.

JRS works in more than 50 countries worldwide to meet the educational, health, social and other needs of approximately 950,000 refugees and other forcibly displaced persons, more than half of whom are women. JRS services are available to refugees and displaced persons regardless of their race, ethnic origin, or religious beliefs.

Approximately 280,000 children, young people and adults receive primary, secondary, tertiary and vocational education services each year. JRS places the highest priority on ensuring a better future for refugees by investing heavily in education and training. Further, JRS undertakes advocacy to ensure all displaced children be provided with access to quality education. JRS services are provided to refugees regardless of race, ethnic origin or religious beliefs.

Jesuit Refugee Service/USA is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Donations are tax-deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law. 






Press Contact Information
Mr Christian Fuchs
christian.fuchs@jrs.net
202-629-5946