8 July, 2014 - Government must ensure safety of children aboard asylum boat

Plan International Australia CEO Ian Wishart is available for interviews and grabs. Please call Adam Cathro on 0488 202 945 to arrange.

Plan International Australia, the child rights organisation and international NGO, is gravely concerned about any children involved in a reported offshore transfer to Sri Lankan authorities of asylum seekers at sea, and is calling on the Federal Government to afford these children special protection and ensure their humane treatment.

The High Court last night issued an interim injunction preventing the transfer to Sri Lanka of a reported 153 asylum seekers on a boat heading to Australia. It is believed that there are as many as 37 children on board the boat, although the government has so far refused to confirm any details.

“We are deeply concerned about the fate of any children who may be on board this boat, who are likely to be frightened and stressed as they struggle to cope with an ordeal no child should have to endure,” says Plan International Australia CEO Ian Wishart.

“The Australian government has international obligations to treat asylum seekers fairly, especially children, and we call on them to do everything in their power to treat them humanely and in a way that is consistent with international law and practice,” he says.

“We are also concerned about the government’s secrecy about this boat and the people on board. We know very little about their circumstances, whether or not they have been handed back to Sri Lanka, whether they have been given access to legal representation or how they were screened,” Wishart says.

“Most importantly, we do not know about the children aboard, who are the undisputed innocents in this episode. Are they healthy and safe? Are they being appropriately cared for by the authorities? These are questions the government must consider and answer.”

“The government is in danger of setting a very worrying precedent here, and it is crucial that they adopt a humane, fair and lawful approach to asylum seekers at sea, particularly children.”

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 48 developing countries across Africa, Asia and the Americas and supported by 20 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