SYDNEY: Australia’s immigration minister strongly defended his government’s policy of detaining asylum-seeker children in camps, saying it was “effective” in deterring others from boarding boats destined for its shores.
Scott Morrison, who was fronting an Australian Human Rights Commission inquiry into children in detention, said Canberra’s tough immigration policies were helping prevent asylum-seekers from dying during the perilous boat journey from Asia.
“I saw too many children die in the sea not to pursue the policies I am pursuing,” he said during a hearing that saw some heated exchanges over the camps’ conditions.
“The voiceless in this debate are the ones that are at the bottom of the ocean and who are in camps all around the world which I am now very pleased are getting places under our (immigration) programme.”
The minister said Tuesday he expected to release some 150 children aged under 10 from mainland detention centres, as well as a “large number” of the 1,547 in community detention in Australia.
But children held on offshore facilities on Christmas Island and Nauru who arrived after July 19 last year are excluded under Canberra’s tough immigration policy.
Under the policy, the asylum-seekers are prevented from being resettled in Australia regardless of whether they are judged to be genuine refugees. They are instead kept at the offshore centres for processing or resettlement.
Counsel assisting the inquiry, Naomi Sharp, said monthly data showed the average length of time children were detained in camps had tripled to 349 days since the current conservative government came to power in September.
Morrison also disputed remarks by the Commission’s president, Gillian Triggs, likening the camps to prisons.
When asked if he accepted that detention was “currently doing harm and damage to the children detained”, he said:
“This is why I am keen to see as few children in detention as possible.”
The inquiry previously heard that children held on Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, were plagued by despair and suffering symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder. — AFP