150 asylum-seeker children to be released from detention

IMMIGRATION Minister Scott Morrison says it would have been irresponsible and risky for the government to “dump children in the community’’ after releasing them from detention without first overhauling the old bridging visa system.
Mr Morrison has today unveiled new arrangements to allow children aged under 10 years and their families to be released from detention into the community on bridging visas with better support including access to schooling, health care and orientation programs to help them adjust to their new lives.

The changes will apply to 150 children being held in immigration detention centres who will be granted visas to settle in the community with their families, as well as 1547 children under 10 and their families in community detention housing or on bridging visas.
It only applies to asylum-seekers who arrived before July 19 last year — the so-called legacy backlog of immigration cases in Australia before the previous Rudd government announced new arrivals would be sent offshore — and therefore does not affect asylum-seekers held on Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island.
Speaking in Melbourne, Mr Morrison said that he wanted to stress that “getting children out of detention and putting them on bridging visas is something that has to be done properly’’.
“You just don’t kneejerk respond to a headline and just put people on bridging visas if the arrangements aren’t suitable,’’ he said.
The Australian Human Rights Commission is currently holding a national inquiry into children in immigration detention which has heard shocking claims of self-harm, mental health problems and medical neglect.
“We have seen and all understand the issues of some of those released on bridging visas under the previous government being found in totally unsuitable accommodation in very distraught circumstances,’’ Mr Morrison said.
“There was no way I was going to put children into that type of an arrangement and plenty of people have been putting the word on the government to get children out of detention and release them on bridging visas.
“It would be irresponsible to dump children in the community using the old bridging visa model.
“It had to be changed. We changed it and now they will be released under those arrangements.’’
The arrangements are designed to extend the care and support provided in the community based on residential detention to those released on bridging visas including suitable accommodation, supporting kids to go to school, emergency relief payments if needed, access to health support, and English language course.
There will be expanded case worker management processes and those on the bridging visas will have access to orientation programs to help families adjust to life in the community and understand Australia’s laws and how to behave.
“The priority is to get those who are in held detention, and this will mean a lot to the 150 kids and their parents, to be able to get them out of held detention, along with the 516 others that have already been taken out of detention under this government and to have them placed in the community.
“This is the dividend of stopping the boats. This is what happens when you stop the boats, you can achieve these results,’’ Mr Morrison said.
Those on bridging visas will have their refugee applications processed and if they are found to be genuine will be granted temporary residence in Australia, and those who are found not to have genuine claims will be sent home.
The government would not be watering down its suite of policies to stop the boats including the mandatory transfer of asylum-seekers to Manus and Nauru and denying them any foothold in Australia.
“Offshore processing and resettlement will remain the policy for those who turned up after July 19. It is not possible for the government to see a watering down of that arrangement and put at risk the strong border protection measures that have been so successful in ensuring children don’t get on boats in the first place,’’ Mr Morrison said.
Labor’s immigration spokesman Richard Marles said Mr Morrison had “been caught out attempting to claim credit and falsely announce as new a Labor initiative to move children from detention facilities into the community’’.
“On October 18 2010, the former Labor Government announced the expansion of the community detention program to move children and families out of detention and into the community,’’ he said.
“Labor continued to move children and vulnerable people into the community while it was in office.’’
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said keeping children locked up on Nauru and Manus Island was unacceptable.
“The Abbott government is destroying hundreds of vulnerable children by locking them up in appalling conditions offshore,’’ she said in a statement.
“The Abbott government should close the camps, save billions of dollars and end the unnecessary cruelty. The immigration minister can and should do that today.’’theaustralian.com.au
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