Health experts alarmed by Aust detention plans for asylum children

Children are set to return to a notorious Australian immigration detention centre north of Perth, under a plan being considered by Australia's immigration department.

No decision has been made and it is not known why the proposal is necessary but the department is exploring ways of housing asylum seeker families in a fenced-off section at the Curtin centre.
Mental health specialists say they are shocked by plans, although residents in the nearby town of Derby say the families will be looked after.

Correspondent: Karen Barlow
Speakers: Elsia Archer, president, West Kimberley shire; Brendan O'Connor, Australia's Minister for Immigration and Citizenship; Professor Louise Newman, Monash University and Chair of the Detention Expert Health Advisory Group; Michael Keenan, Opposition spokesman on Border Protection and Customs
BARLOW: The Curtin Immigration Detention centre is hot, dusty, remote.. and it has been scene of desperate protests. Before it was closed in late 2002 by the conservative Howard Government, there were riots, self-harm and mass escapes. Curtin was opened again for single adult male asylum seekers in 2010 by the current Labor Government.. with flow on benefits for the local community, 40 kilometres away in Derby. Now there are plans to bring back asylum seeker families..
ARCHER: Most people just say that's great you know, it is quite a nice centre.
BARLOW: West Kimberley shire president Elsia Archer .. she was informed by the Immigration department three weeks ago, that woman and children may be heading her way.
ARCHER: We don't have a problem with it. I did alert my council that this could be. Some people say it is remote but the RAAF live out there and we all live in Derby so I guess we are all remote. I happen to love where I live.
BARLOW: Neither the Immigration Department nor the Immigration Minister Brendan O'Connor will say why the plan to bring women and children back to Curtin is being considered. The numbers of asylum seeker boat arrivals have been increasing and the Christmas Island facility is at capacity with 2,757 people currently there going through immigration processing. The Minister says no decision on Curtin has been made.
O'CONNOR: We will explore options that I think will ensure that we treat detainees with dignity and respect and provide the services they need .. so there is no decision made... and I can assure you that that decision will be made ensuring that we protect the interested of those kids.
BARLOW: The Labor government has a policy to not hold asylum seeker children in immigration detention. There have been high profile cases, and government payouts, where minors have suffered mental harm from what they have experienced. Monash University's Professor Louise Newman advises the Immigration Department as the Chair of the Detention Expert Health Advisory Group .
NEWMAN: The evidence about this harm to children has been known for a decade. So it really is quite alarming that we seem to have gone almost 360 degrees to continue to detain children in these circumstances. Of course, we also have concerns about the children as a matter of first base are sent to Manus Island and possibly expanding Nauru for families as well.
BARLOW: The Immigration department says there are no children in Australian Immigration detention. There are 2-thousand 644 minors currently being processed by the Immigration Department.. 1-thousand 244 children are in community detention.. while 1-thousand 400 are in what the department calls "Alternative Places of Detention " or APODs. And that is distinction here.. The current Curtin plan is for an APOD somehow part of or attached to the Curtin Detention Centre.. Again there is no detail from either the Immigration Department, or the Immigration Minister Brendan O'Connor .. not even about the fences..

O'CONNOR: I am certainly saying that the fences that we decide to detain people will be appropriate and the people and the standards we apply are as good as any in the world.
BARLOW: Professor Louise Newman says APODs are not good enough..
NEWMAN: This is semantics . Children are placed in restrictive forms of detention now they are not called immigration detention centres they changed the name of them. to call them alternative places of detention, but the same issue still apply that children have restriction on movement. It is very difficult for children to have normal experiences to have education and activity particularly when they are being processed on a remote processing centre. No I think that is being a bit of a nonsense.
BARLOW: Amnesty international wants the whole centre shut down.. Amnesty's Graeme McGregor was part of a group that visited Curtin last February.
McGREGOR: The centre is extremely unsuitable for children. The conditions there would be extremely hard to alleviate. The weather is extremely hot and dusty. It is a very remote location. Very far from any family or community that the families might want to have access to and those are conditions that simply can't be overcome.
BARLOW: The Australian Opposition agrees Curtin is no place to house children. The Opposition's spokesman on Border Protection and Customs, Michael Keenan says the government is at fault for what he calls failed border protection policies. But He says if children go into Curtin, he can't say when they will come out.
KEENAN: Well we will need to deal with it as soon as we can. And we will certainly prioritise the cases of children, but dealing with the enormous legacy of failure that we may inherit from the Labor Party if we were to win the election, is going to take some time.
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