Conditions for children in immigration detention don’t improve

| October 13, 2014

The treatment of children in detention centres has been a political topic of debate for some time. Lauren Odgers says the Government needs to prioritise the physical and emotional wellbeing of children over finances and petition for votes.

Children seeking asylum ending up in detention centres with or without their parents, as well as the conditions of detention centres have been issues of contention for some time. There is extensive literature to support the suggestion of poor living conditions for adults and children in detention centres. Children being detained in detention centres is not right; this is a breach of their human rights, and being vulnerable already due to their age combined with the conditions they are forced to exist in results in extremely poor outcomes for them.

This year we have seen a national inquiry into children in immigration detention. There is mounting evidence to suggest children experience detrimental impacts as a result of their time in detention. Some of these include anxiety, depression, self-harming, developmental issues, decreased physical health, decreased education opportunities etc (AASW, 2014; Corlett et al., 2012).

Asylum seekers and their treatment in detention centres has been a political topic of debate for many years, with various governments making commitments to addressing issues for asylum seekers, however the problems still continue. Government policies continue to change but conditions don’t improve, nor does the timeframe in which children are left waiting for community accommodation decrease.

The Government being under pressure regarding the release of children from detention centres is not new. In 2010 pressure was being put on the Government to speed up the release of children and vulnerable asylum seekers from immigration detention centres, following news that only 20 children had been transferred to community accommodation.

In recent times, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has blamed the past Government for the current amount of detainees. Whilst Morrison has spoken of his Government’s intention to move children who are being held in detention centres on the Australian mainland into the community by the end of the year, nothing seems to be happening very fast. Additionally, this move will only apply to those children who arrived prior to 19th July 2013 (as after this date the offshore resettlement policy applies) and not to those children were are currently detained in offshore facilities.

This is not good enough.  Morrison confirms that costs associated with getting children out of detention are a significant issue, in addition to the humanitarian issues. Mr Morrison would not agree with the reality that children detained in Australia and in offshore detention centres still suffer the same ill fate/health. Should more importance be placed on money than on children’s wellbeing?

In March 2014 Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was questioned regarding Australia’s detention centres. There were claims that Australia’s overseas detention centres are “inhumane, uncivilized” and the centres were compared to and described as worse than Guantanamo Bay. Bishop has continually defended the Federal Government policies, describing those held in offshore detention centres such as Manus Island are better off than Papua New Guineans.

This issue will continue to be debated with no positive outcomes until the Government follows through on its promises and prioritises the physical and emotional wellbeing of children over finances and petition for votes.



  1. sim2694

    March 17, 2015 at 6:00 am

    Children in detention centres

    One would think that the mental health of immigrant children in Australia’s detention centers would be a priority for Australian immigration officials, however this does not present as factual. Burying statistics, not publishing or presenting data are some of the things that medical directors, working for the immigration department, have been asked to do (Asia News Monitor, 2014). As at 31 December 2014 Australia held 333 children in mandatory closed immigration detention centers for an indefinite period of time (Department of Immigration and Boarder Protection, 2014). There appears to be no rational explanation for keeping these children detained, as it has not deterred people smugglers or asylum seekers, the only thing that is evident is the increasing amount of mental illness disorders amongst these children (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2014). The United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child (1989) states that, the detention of a child must only be a measure of last resort and the length of time should be the shortest possible time period. The time of detainment should allow for health, identity and security checks to be completed, and once this is done children should be moved to a more suitable environment (Asia News Monitor, 2014). Children who are being kept in these detention centers are denied these basic rights, as the immigration department is failing to act in the best interest of the child (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2014). The best interest of the child should be the primary concern for any department who is working with children, however this does not seem to be the case for immigration officials (Cipri, 2013). Immigration officials claim that children are well cared for in detention centers, but to whose standards (Asia News Monitor, 2014)? In response to this many insiders state that the system has been designed to harm people so that they will want to return to where they came from (Metherell, 2014). Children who have travelled to Australia seeking asylum with their families have already been through traumatic experiences, and are therefore more vulnerable to mental health issues, and then by placing them in detention centers, for prolonged periods of time, the consequences for their mental health are considerable (Mares, Newman, Dudley & Gale, 2002). This proves that children have no place in detention centers and shows that holding children in these conditions provides nothing but harm to this already vulnerable group (Fazel, Karunakara & Newnham, 2014). Between February and September 2014 the government released 220 children to community detention centers or on bridging visas, and several children with disabilities were bought to the mainland for medical care and were later released into the community (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2014). What about the other children? Why should they suffer longer in these conditions, with the risk of deteriorating health? Other than disability, arrival dates and age what other factors are determining which children are being released? These are all questions that remain unanswered, and as every day passes more vulnerable children are at risk of self-harm, attempted suicide, anxiety, depression and declining mental health (Asia News Monitor, 2014).