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Refugee advocates hail release of children but vow to fight on

NEWS | Anne Lim
Monday 4 April 2016

Refugee advocates have hailed the federal government’s announcement that there are no longer any children in mainland detention while emphasising that more needs to be done to resettle the 267 asylum-seekers still under threat of being returned to Nauru.

“This is a very important milestone and a welcome sign that the government is listening to its better angels,” said Justin Whelan, one of the creators of the Love Makes a Way Christian advocacy group.

“The effects of detention on children are profoundly traumatic and so those children are no longer facing those daily horrors and have a chance to glimpse an ordinary life.

“But we are aware this is not a long-term humanitarian solution. And Love Makes a Way, along with others in the community, are determined to see all of these families and all of the adults processed and resettled in Australia, and the camps on Nauru and Manus Island closed.”


Misha Coleman

Refugee advocates have been able to verify that there are no longer any children in the Wickham Point detention centre in Darwin, but there was confusion about the status of one or more families in Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney in the wake of the government’s claim that the final 42 children held in detention had been moved into the community.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton told ABC Radio National this morning that there was one family where a parent had a negative ASIO assessment and remained in detention. But the other parent and their children were living in a townhouse on the Villawood compound and had been given greater freedom to come and go and have visitors under new arrangements.

“There is a small number of children involved and we’ve been able to modify arrangements so the children aren’t detained, they can have friends over, they can go out into the community, and they don’t have a guard present,” he said.

Misha Coleman, executive officer of the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce, credited the new policy to changed community sentiment towards sending people back to offshore detention.

“The Let Them Stay campaign, including the church sanctuary movement, has succeeded in making the case, and we have the polling to prove it, that the community does not want people sent back to Nauru and has had enough of Nauru and Manus Island,” she said.

“Peter Dutton understands that community sentiment has changed and that there is no longer political capital in cruelty but there is political capital in kindness, so to be aligned with the community it has now decided to get kids out of detention.”

However, she said the battle for the 267 asylum-seekers, including 36 children, living on temporary protection visas would be stepped up.

“The point is that all of the 267 asylum-seekers, regardless of whether they are held in community detention or residential housing, the minister has said they will all be returned to Nauru.”

Dutton confirmed today that the policy towards those 267 asylum-seekers had not changed. All were subject to be sent back to Nauru if they would not accept a resettlement package to a third country.

“If we relax the policy settings, the people-smugglers would have people on boats tomorrow. And I’m not going to let that happen,” he said.

The Let Them Stay campaign, which was set up with the purpose of stopping the imminent deportation of 267 people back to Nauru, is now gearing up for its next big push, offering innovative alternative policy approaches to the asylum-seeker problem.

“We’re calling for other national options to be considered instead of the binary proposition that it’s either death at sea or offshore detention and boat turnbacks,” Coleman said.

“The third country options have all failed; there is no active, viable real third country alternative available right now.

“Arrangements put in place for people to resettle in Cambodia are very short term, so after the initial package of assistance there is a big unknown about the future, which is why … there have only been two resettlements.”

Coleman said it was good that children were no longer locked up, but leaving them and their families in indefinite limbo was also very cruel.

“We’re calling on the minister not just to let people out of detention but to assess their claims for refugee status and do that quickly,” she said.

While welcoming the moves to give asylum-seeker children more freedom, Christian group Common Grace expressed doubt that the government’s policy shift was anything more than political rhetoric.

“We want our country to treat people seeking asylum in exactly the same way that we would want to be treated if we were in that position,” Kylie Beach, Communications Director for Common Grace, said.

“We are hopeful that the government’s awareness will increasingly shape their policies, rather than just their rhetoric. As the Bible says, ‘Let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.’”

However, as Christians, Common Grace are looking for more than just words from our leaders, she said.

“We are looking for real compassion that is evidenced in policy, rather than rhetoric. We want our leaders to be truthful and to hold themselves accountable to the Australian people who they are elected to represent.”

The Anglican Church today called on the government to urgently clarify the status of the children released from detention.

“Please, Minister Dutton, clarify your intention! Are these children to be truly released into Australia or are they destined for Nauru?” said Bishop Philip Huggins, chairman of the Anglican Church of Australia Refugee Taskforce. “And if they are destined for Nauru, why were the Australian people misled? We ask for an end to confusion and cruelty, and the commencement of compassion.”

He said the government must face the fact that there is no third country likely to take people returned to Nauru and Manus.

“This is even more the case, given the Syria crisis. The Cambodian proposal has been an expensive failure. If these people are refugees they are our responsibility to resettle honourably.

“Please, release the children who are in Australia, in Australia.”


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