Child asylum seeker being held 'jail-like' setting | Connect Asia

Child asylum seeker being held 'jail-like' setting

Child asylum seeker being held 'jail-like' setting

Updated 11 July 2013, 16:48 AEST

Australia's Children's Commissioner has criticised the continued detention of an 11 year old asylum seeker from Sri Lanka, She says the unaccompanied minor is being held, together with two teenage cousins, in "jail like" conditions at Pontville Detention centre near Hobart in the island state of Tasmania.

It's understoond the Australian Immigration Minister, Tony Burke, is trying to find a place in community detention for the trio.

Presenter:Felicity Ogilvie

Speaker: Megan Mitchell, National Children's Commissioner; unnamed doctor

ELICITY OGILVIE: The National Children's Commissioner, Megan Mitchell, recently visited the Pontville Detention Centre in Hobart where the 11-year-old Sri Lankan boy is being held.

The child is the youngest unaccompanied minor being detained in Australia and the commissioner wants the child to be moved out of detention.

MEGAN MITCHELL: Well I don't think that detention is an appropriate place for young people generally, especially those who have come to Australia and experienced such significant trauma on the way.

And obviously the younger the children are, the more vulnerable they are in those settings.

FELICITY OGILVIE: What kind of vulnerability do you think the child has in that setting? Because Tony Burke, the Immigration Minister, has made it clear that the boy is being isolated with his two cousins; sleeping in the same room as them, not in a large dormitory with the other children.

MEGAN MITCHELL: It is good that the Minister has made that move, but in fact it's a low security prison - sorry, a low security facility, and they will encounter other boys, and most of the boys there are around 16 or 17 years of age.

FELICITY OGILVIE: The Sri Lankan children haven't been moved yet because the Minister wants to keep the family unit together. Where do you think that the child should be moved to?

MEGAN MITCHELL: There are lots of opportunities within the community where children can live in family-like settings, and I think that's the best thing for them and their healthy development. They need to experience as much a normalised environment as they can as they're growing up, and they're very vulnerable developmentally.

FELICITY OGILVIE: You've visited the Pontville Detention Centre, and you've met with unaccompanied minors today in Adelaide who are being detained there as well.

What kind of conditions are they unaccompanied minors living in around Australia?

MEGAN MITCHELL: In Pontville, it's a fairly bleak environment. It is very jail-like, and there are high wire fences all around it and also internal to it.

The young people are in dormitory-style accommodations in double bunk beds. They have very limited privacy, and it's pretty isolated - 30 kilometres out of Hobart.

Also the young people, especially those that have been there for a prolonged periods, are very depressed and anxious about their situation and a number of them reported self-harming and sleep disorders.

And so I think having a lot of young people exposed to those conditions is really problematic.

FELICITY OGILVIE: Meanwhile, a doctor from Brisbane is trying to find a foster family for the 11-year-old Sri Lankan boy and his two cousins.

DOCTOR: I think the most easiest for them to settle into the, in Australia, and especially in Brisbane, would be people from similar backgrounds, so ideally Tamil family either from India or from Sri Lanka.

FELICITY OGILVIE: The doctor - who doesn't want to be named - says he's willing to put money into supporting the Sri Lankan boys.

DOCTOR: I would make sure that there'll be a trust fund is established so that they can be provided with appropriate financial help for their education, their welfare, and long-term future, which would involve further education in Australia subject to them being allowed to stay here.

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