The Guardian 30 March, 2005

Asylum seekers and human rights

Australia’s refugee detention centres currently hold 950 inmates, including 81 children. There are six children on Nauru, and many young children, including two six-year-old girls. They have spent their entire life in detention, in effect in prison. Three unaccompanied children are still being held in detention, without guardians.

The fifty-four people held at the Nauru centre have been there for more than three years. Iranian bookseller Amir Mesenijad, who lost his bookshop and was savagely beaten for selling a western history book, has been held at Villawood for four years and three months. Kashmiri detainee Peter Qasim is now in his seventh year of imprisonment at Villawood.

In May last year the Human Rights Commission made the following recommendations to Parliament concerning asylum seekers. The government has so far not implemented a single recommendation.

1. Children should be released from detention centres and residential housing projects within four weeks of the tabling of the report (i.e. by June 2004).

2. Australia’s laws should incorporate a presumption against the detention of children.

3. Australia’s laws should require independent assessment of the need to detain children within 72 hours of any initial detention.

4. Australia’s laws should provide for prompt and periodic review of the legality of continuing detention.

5. Australia’s laws should incorporate fundamental principles on detention to guide courts and independent tribunals.

6. Australia’s laws should be amended so that bridging visas are readily available to families and unaccompanied children.

7. An independent guardian should be appointed for unaccompanied children and they should receive appropriate support.

8. Australia’s laws should codify the minimum standards of treatment of children in detention centres.

9. Australia should review the impact of “Pacific Solution” and “excision measures” on children.

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