Uncertainty over fate of Nauru children

Unaccompanied children seeking asylum should not be sent to Nauru for processing.
Unaccompanied children seeking asylum should not be sent to Nauru for processing. Photo: Angela Wylie
NAURU is expecting Australia to take special care of asylum-seeker children and teenagers who are without parents but sent to the island for processing under its revived Pacific Solution.

But Labor is yet to explain how changes to the guardianship of unaccompanied minors will operate after new laws set out to remove the responsibility from Immigration Minister Chris Bowen.
Child advocates and refugee lawyers have expressed deep concern over uncertainty surrounding the treatment of unaccompanied minors sent for offshore processing - with nearly 900 arriving by boat in Australia in the 12 months to July.
''We don't think children should be sent there,'' said Tim O'Connor of UNICEF Australia. Mr O'Connor said that he recently met immigration officials but could not get a clear answer.
''I think it is something they are struggling with,'' he said.
Under previous arrangements, the immigration minister became the legal guardian of all unaccompanied children in immigration detention.
But under changes passed after the government embraced Pacific processing of asylum seekers, that responsibility was taken away.
Lawyer David Manne, who last year successfully challenged the government's Malaysia people swap, said the legislative changes to guardianship were aimed at circumventing the High Court ruling. Mr Manne said Nauru had limited resources to care for the wellbeing of unaccompanied children.
''The new laws seek to sever the guardianship responsibilities for the minister for minors sent overseas. It remains unclear what will be in place to look after their welfare,'' he said.
Nauru's Justice Secretary, Lisa Lo Piccolo, told The Age unaccompanied minors would be looked after by Australia.
''I understand Australia will be the one who will send guardians to care for such children, but the court can ultimately make that decision and there's nothing that can stop a Nauruan applying to be a guardian and it will be up to the court to decide if it will be in the child's best interests,'' she said.
The issue was raised after local women offered to temporarily adopt unaccompanied children on the island.
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said unaccompanied minors were vulnerable asylum seekers and most in need of protection.
''The minister has deserted these children, leaving them with no guardian, and he now seems happy to dump them on Nauru with no protections and no one responsible for their welfare and legal rights,'' she said.
Asked who would have guardianship over any children without parents that Australia sends Nauru, a spokeswoman for Mr Bowen said the minister did not - and he would have more to say in the future.

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