Sunday, October 18, 2009

Asylum Seekers in Australia - Open letter to the Minister for Immigration

Dear Minister

I am saddened that children and unaccompanied minors continue to be held on Christmas Island.

I commend the Federal Government on recent changes to the Australian refugee system, such as the termination of the Pacific Solution and Temporary Protection visas, which should be maintained.

However, I strongly urge the Government to fully commit to its vision of creating a more humane refugee system by immediately ending the detention of all children, particularly unaccompanied minors, and moving all children from Christmas Island to the Australian mainland.

Detaining children on Christmas Island violates the Australian Government’s international obligations under the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC). The immigration detention arrangements, including the construction camp facility where children are currently detained, are inappropriate for minors. The restrictive conditions of detention and lack of services have been well documented to cause long-term psychological and physical damage.

Australia has received repeated international criticism for its policy of mandatory detention and excision. The practice of detaining asylum seekers on Christmas Island, as a whole, breaches our obligations under the UN Refugee Convention.

I urge the Australian Government to meets its international obligations towards children seeking asylum by ensuring that once it is clear that a child does not pose a risk to the Australian community, that s/he be housed immediately and appropriately on the Australian mainland.

In response to the Opposition's irrational posture on asylum seekers, the Prime Minister has adopted a media strategy that has echoes of the Howard Government policy, including the use of the term 'illegal immigration' to denigate asylum seekers. Bona fide refugees are not categorized as 'illegal immigrants' under international law instruments. Australia should be modeling best practice in this area, including the education of the general public on the complex issues surrounding refugee movements and asylum seeker entitlements.

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