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Children in Detention on Christmas Island - Christmas Update

By Yvette Vignando - 23rd December 2010

Earlier this week I wrote a blogpost about the news that children are being held in immigration detention on Christmas Island. There were questions that were unanswered so we researched the facts for you, and made contact with the Department of Immigration.

One surprising fact stood out for me -The Australian newspaper reported that as at 22 December 2010, there were more than 442 unaccompanied minors being held in immigration detention in Australia. That information alone seems to be quite significant because the Australian Human Rights Commission reports that these children are not allowed to challenge their detention in any forum, and that their guardian is also their "keeper".

I was surprised to read of the high number of unaccompanied children. I don't know how many of those children were orphaned in the process of seeking asylum or how many of them were sent alone by their parents in search of a safer life. Regardless of how they arrived, those children are now being held in mandatory detention in a variety of facilities that the Australian government refers to as APODs - Alternative Places of Detention. The alternatives include Inverbrackie Detention Centre in the Adelaide Hills (a former Department of Defence Facility). 85 people (47 of them children) arrived at the Inverbrackie Detention Centre from Leonora Detention Centre on Tuesday this week, following reports that some children were harming themselves at Leonora.

An ABC Lateline report in October 2010 stated that a number of Sri Lankan children were being held in a motel in Darwin in cramped conditions, with little room to play and kept under 24 hour guard. The same report stated that some of those children had not attended school during the four months that they had been detained at the motel but that the Department of Immigration was acting to remedy that situation. Lateline quoted Louise Newman, Chair of the Independent Health Advisory Group for Immigration as saying "We're certainly seeing now a few cases where some of the very already stressed and vulnerable young people in some of these situations are self-harming, becoming quite distressed and agitated ... Children need to be in school, children need to be having normal activities as much as possible, even if they're living in a motel or some other place".

Update on Christmas Island Orphans

In part 1 of this blogpost I referred to the news that there were 3 children orphaned as a result of the boat accident near Christmas Island and that they are being detained on the island. The latest information is:

  • one of the orphans, a boy, has been reunited with two aunts who arrived on another boat after his.
  • two of the orphans have been reunited with two uncles who also survived the boat accident. A third uncle who was already at Christmas Island has also been moved to be with the orphans to provide extra support.
  • all three orphans are to remain on Christmas Island for now, in mandatory detention, but in a place that the Department of Immigration describes as having "open play areas (with) plenty of support around them both of a professional nature and of a familial nature".

And from the Department of Immigration

We were told this:

- the 3 orphaned children on Christmas Island are in "appropriate alternative detention arrangements" and are with surivors of Siev 221 with support services.

- as of yesterday, 982 children are in "detention arrangements" in Australia; 325 are on Christmas Island and 657 are on the mainland. 465 of these children are unaccompanied minors.

- the Australian government policy is that children will not be held in "immigration detention centres". The Migration Act 1958 (amended in 2005) affirms that children should only be detained as a last resort. However, the Australian government states that this principle "does not limit the location and nature of any such detention."

My Thoughts on Children in Immigration Detention in Australia

Okay, so they are the facts that we were able to find out. So that leaves me thinking and feeling this:

- I'm glad that those children are physically or at least relatively safe here in Australia; they are no longer on boats and if they were in danger in their country of origin, they are safe from that danger for now.

- I'm very worried by reports that the alternative places of immigration detention being offered to unaccompanied children and children with families in Australia, may not be meeting the emotional and social needs of those children; I am sure that Australia can and should do better than this when it looks after children from anywhere.

- I hope that Australian government Ministers can find it in their hearts and minds to consider the recommendations by the UNHCR on alternatives to detention for children with or without parents, who arrive in Australia seeking asylum and who pose no security or health risk to the public.

P.S. If you read part 1 of this blogpost you would have read about the fabulous initiative by Louisa to get toys up to the kids on Christmas Island - many people donated the courier/airfare costs and I have just read on Twitter (see @_Louisa__) that as at 4.49 p.m. Sydney time,  the toys are on board a flight and will be collected for delivery at 4.20 p.m. Christmas Island time. Yippee!

image Salvatore Vuono

Comments (2)


Through my paid work I had a meeting this week with asylum Seekers resource centre.

They have a great deal of information if you need to know any other facts.

They are also always looking for volunteers to help run the organization.

They are Melbourne based.


Thanks for sharing this - it's great to see some helpful info out in the open so thanks for taking the time! Thanks also for sharing about our appeal & for your support with it!

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