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It’s not appropriate for families and children to be transferred to Nauru or [Manus Island] Papua New Guinea and the suggestions and proposals for transferring unaccompanied children for us is even more deeply concerning.
Unaccompanied children are already very vulnerable and to place them in situations of uncertainty and tough physical conditions… could be very damaging to their health and well-being.
During the UNHCR visit Nauru inspectors met some of the 95 child detainees, who drew pictures highlighting their distress. The inspectors found children were living in hot, humid, cramped conditions with little privacy, were not going to school and their parents held deep concerns for their mental health.
The UNHCR report that:
a) it constitutes arbitrary and mandatory detention under international law;
b) doesn’t provide a fair, efficient and expeditious system for assessing refugee claims;
c) doesn’t provide safe and humane conditions of treatment in detention; and
d) doesn’t provide for adequate and timely solutions for refugees.
Richard Towle of UNHCR went on to say:
People are being held in what we found to be mandatory, arbitrary detention settings.
The toughness of the physical conditions is superimposed on a mandatory detention environment and that compounds people’s uncertainty.
If not addressed very carefully, we could see a fairly rapid degradation of psycho-social and physical health if people don’t have a fairly early determination of their fate and future.
The UNHCR’s director of international protection, Volker Turk, said:
…UNHCR has observed … a sharp deterioration, during the course of the year, in the overall quality of protection and support available to asylum seekers and refugees who come to Australia by boat…when policies and practices are based primarily on deterrence, they can have harmful and, at times, punishing consequences for people affected, particularly families and children.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s response to the criticisms of UNHCR is only to comment on the number of asylum seekers that have been processed and to ignore the appalling living conditions, presence of unaccompanied children in detention, and other concerns of UNHCR:
Processing is now underway again, and we are looking to further progress in the months ahead.
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