By Samuel Miller
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America and Oceania
BRISBANE, Australia — Over the weekend, the Australian government confirmed that all the asylum-seeking children that were being held in mainland immigration centers across the country had been released. However, this appears only to be possible as the government has reclassified sections of detention centers as “community detention” in order to be able to claim that all children have been released from immigration detention.
Following a High Court decision earlier this year, approximately 90 children currently in Australia are due to be sent to Nauru.
Under its strict anti-immigration policy, Australia currently detains all asylum seekers arriving by boat, holding them in detention camps in Nauru and New Guinea. Over the past year, as the number of refugees fleeing conflict-hit zones in the Middle East has surged, the Australian government has increasingly faced severe criticism from several human rights groups over the conditions in these detention camps.
Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton over the weekend in Brisbane told reporters, “Today we have no children of boats in detention, and that is a significant achievement of this government.” “It’s been almost a decade since there were no children in detention,” Dutton added.
Specifically, officials in Australia say the last group of children ranged from a baby to a 17-year-old. According to SBS, Mr. Dutton said the last few children’s cases had been complicated because they involved one parent being subject to a negative security assessment from the national spy agency, but the whole family had been in detention so they wouldn’t be separated.
As for the status of the children, Mr Dutton told the ABC the Government’s policy had not changed in relation to the children, who are currently in Australia either for medical treatment or accompanying a family member to hospital.
“They are all subject to go back to Nauru once medical support has been provided and we’ve been very clear about that,” he said.
Natasha Blucher, from the Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network, expressed doubt and caution over the government’s announcement. “Because of the way the law is set up, because of Australia’s policy, and because of the children’s date of arrival in Australia, they’re not eligible to apply for protection in Australia, so they do remain essentially in limbo until we see a change of legislation and a change of our policy.”
In a report published last February, Australia’s Human Rights Commission said that hundreds of refugee children were suffering from severe mental illness as a result of prolonged detention at these offshore processing camps.
Under its strict anti-immigration policy, Australia currently detains all asylum seekers arriving by boat, holding them in detention camps in Nauru and New Guinea.
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