25 July, 2014 - Children paramount as asylum seekers transferred

Plan International Australia, the child rights organisation and international NGO, welcomes reports that 157 asylum seekers detained for nearly a month at sea are to be transferred to the Australian mainland, but has renewed its call on the Federal Government to afford children aboard the boat special protection and ensure their humane treatment.

Media reports suggest that asylum seekers are on their way to the Cocos Islands, from where they will be transferred to the Curtin detention centre in Western Australia. It is believed that there are as many as 37 children on board the boat.

“This is a welcome and important development, especially for the children who on this boat. But we remain deeply concerned for the many children believed to be aboard,” says Plan International Australia CEO Ian Wishart.

“This is still likely to be a distressing and anxious time for young children, especially as they have been trapped aboard the boat since it left India in early June and have been detained for close to a month at sea,” he says.

“While it is great news that children are to be moved from what has become a prison ship, it is important to be sure that conditions at any detention centre on the mainland to which they are moved are at least adequate for the children.”

“We know little about the conditions in which children are held at mainland detention centres, and the government must ensure they are cared for and protected wherever they are held. After all, these children are in our care and we have an obligation to guarantee their safety, their protection and their welfare,” Wishart says.

“We urge the government to do everything in their power to treat the children humanely and ensure they are cared for an protected throughout any transfer to Australia and once they are in Australia,” Wishart adds.

“But we also need to remember that children and their families do not belong in immigration detention in Australia. Human rights law says that children should only ever be detained as a matter of last resort and these children can live in the community instead of behind razor wire.”

Plan has previously called on the Federal Government to establish an independent body to monitor and report on the treatment of children held in Australian immigration detention.

That call followed the publication of a leaked report into conditions on the Australian detention facility in Nauru, which revealed that 190 children, including many who are unaccompanied, are at risk of abuse and disease without an adequate child protection framework and little paediatric support.

Editors’ notes:

Plan is one of the oldest and largest children's development organisations in the world, founded 75 years ago, working in 50 developing countries across Africa, Asia and the Americas and supported by 21 donor countries. Plan is independent, with no religious, political or governmental affiliations.

Media contact: Adam Cathro, Plan International Australia, Media Relations Manager, 0488 202 945