The Guardian July 17, 2002


UN calls for immediate release of children

by Janice Hamilton

A United Nations submission to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities 
Commission Inquiry into mandatory detention, has called for the immediate 
release of children held in Australia's detention centres. The submission 
say's that there is a "terrifying possibility" that the Australian 
Government's actions could influence other nations' policies towards asylum 
seekers.

Gaye Phillips, executive director of UNICEF Australia, will tell the 
inquiry that the impact of the Government's policy on detaining children is 
"horrifying and unnecessary".

"Australia is currently the only country in the world that manditorally 
detains children", said Ms Phillips.

"It has not being used 'as a measure of last resort and for the shortest 
appropriate period of time' as required under Article 37(b) of the 
Convention on the Rights of the Child. There is no legitimate justification 
for this discriminatory policy."

Another submission to the inquiry detailed accounts of inhumane treatment 
of children themselves.

Gillian Calvert, NSW Commissioner for Children and Young People, said, "If 
an Australian parent imprisoned their child, did not send them to school 
and exposed them to violence and psychological harm, child protection 
authorities would have undeniably strong grounds to intervene."

Ms Calvert is calling for children to be given access to schooling five 
hours a day, to play, recreation, and sporting facilities and for the use 
of children's names rather than identification by numbers.

Meanwhile, Immigration Minister Phillip Ruddock has completed the grand 
opening of the latest in state of the art concentration camp, at Port 
Augusta, South Australia.

The new Baxter Detention Centre will be used as a replacement for the 
Curtin Detention Centre in Western Australia.

If the Woomera experience is anything to go by, the media inspection of the 
Baxter Camp with its expanses of lawn and budding trees will be a rare 
glimpse inside the centre.

Since Woomera was commissioned in 1999, there has been one supervised tour. 
Other than that, the media and advocacy groups have been prevented from 
seeing and speaking to those inside.

The Immigration Department's description of Baxter makes it sound more like 
a holiday resort than what it is  a detention camp.

"We could theoretically maximise the number of people at Baxter and not 
operate the other facilities", said Ruddock. There are surveillance cameras 
throughout, and electrified fences.

According to the Immigration Department, the hunger strike at the Woomera 
Detention Centre was called off after days, due to lack of public support.

But the Refugee Embassy stationed at Woomera issued a statement over the 
weekend refuting Ruddock's claims and sources close to the refugees believe 
that the hunger strike is still being staged despite government denials.

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