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Issue #1744      August 17, 2016

Bring them here!

Close the camps

Call from Refugee Action Coalition and Plan International Australia for release of children and closure of camps.

During the election, Malcolm Turnbull and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton tried to use the refugee issue to win votes. But their efforts failed to work.

A “Let Them Stay” rally in Sydney earlier this year. (Photo: Anna Pha)

The Refugee Action Coalition points out that Dutton paradoxically blamed refugees for taking jobs and sitting on welfare, while Turnbull claimed that electing Labor would put “border security” at risk.

But despite the scare campaign, the election was far from a strong endorsement of Turnbull. The Coalition only narrowly avoided election defeat, and will hold onto government with among the thinnest of majorities.

The end of August marks 15 years since the Tampa affair, when then Liberal Prime Minister John Howard sent the SAS onto the commercial tanker Tampa to stop a boatload of refugees reaching Australia. They became the first asylum seekers sent to Nauru.

Now the Coalition’s promises to “stop the boats” and keep out refugees are no longer the winning electoral formula they seemed in the past.

Furthermore, the system of offshore detention is facing a major crisis over Manus Island. On April 26 the PNG Supreme Court held that detention on Manus Island was unlawful and the detention centre would have to close.

Further court action in PNG is under way, in an effort to force both PNG and Australia to act on the ruling.

But there is nowhere else for the Manus asylum seekers and refugees to come but Australia. The same is true on Nauru, where there are no arrangements for permanent resettlement of those found to be refugees. We need to keep up the pressure to demand the government “bring them here”.

For them, and for the 30,000 still being processed, we need to demand permanent visas, not Temporary Protection Visas where the threat of being sent back to danger hangs over them. The government’s new “fast track” processing is deeply unfair. Appeal rights must be reinstated.

The tide of public opinion is shifting. A strong majority of people now want those found to be refugees on Manus Island and Nauru to come to Australia. And the overwhelming majority will be found to be refugees. The 267 asylum seekers in Australia from Nauru and Manus Island have still not been returned, thanks to the “Let Them Stay” movement earlier this year. We need to step up the pressure to close the camps and bring them all here.

Children out

Child rights organisation Plan International Australia has renewed calls to the Coalition government to immediately release all children held in detention, following the release of leaked reports outlining abuse of children held on Nauru.

“Like so many Australians we are again waking up to shocking news of torture and abuse of children in our care on Nauru and wondering how our government can sanction this flagrant abuse of human rights. No child belongs in prison,” Plan International Australia Acting CEO Dave Husy says.

“We are extremely concerned for the well-being of the 49 very vulnerable children who are currently held on Nauru. It is clear that their ongoing detention is in breach of international human rights obligations.”*

More than half of the 2,116 reports revealed by the UK Guardian last week involve children, although children made up only about 18 percent of those in detention on Nauru during the time covered by the reports, May 2013 to October 2015.

In line with Article 31 of the Refugee Convention, detention of asylum-seekers should always only be used as a last resort and for as short a time as possible.

“We want a commitment from the Coalition to never detain children during the process of determining their legal status. We remind the government that Australia is a signatory to the UN’s Convention against Torture. That means we have made a commitment that cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment is never justified under any circumstances.

“Rather than using vulnerable children as a deterrent to those seeking asylum, there should be a bipartisan approach to developing workable sustainable regional protection solutions.”

Husy added that the upcoming United Nations Summit on Refugees and Migrants on September 19 is an opportune time for the government to commit to releasing children in detention.

“We have long said that detention centres are no place for a child. We are locking up children, some of whom are not even accompanied by their parents or families, and that’s something Australia ought to be ashamed of.

“These children have done nothing wrong. They have become innocent victims and are paying the highest price imaginable for political gain. We have to consider the welfare of the children before the politics of immigration detention.”

Husy also renewed Plan International Australia’s call for an independent monitor for children in detention.

* 48 children were held on Nauru as of June 30, 2016

Next article – Editorial – Whose terrorism?

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