Department of Immigration and Citizenship

Biggest asylum seeker concern is children in detention

A MEMBER of the expert panel on asylum seekers has slammed the government for allowing children to be placed in detention on Manus Island.

Refugee expert Paris Aristotle said the myriad safeguards outlined in the expert panel's report handed down in August had not been implemented.

While recommending Australia re-establish offshore processing centres for asylum seekers, the panel also outlined a range of measures designed to ensure the mental health of detainees was protected.

Mr Aristotle said his greatest issue of concern was people, and children in particular, being placed in arbitrary detention.

"I don't think that was ever a part of the panel's recommendations, and in my view, something needs to be done to address that immediately," Mr Aristotle said in an interview on Lateline.

"If they were free to move around, if there were adequate services available for them and so forth, then that may have been an acceptable option."

Mr Aristotle said it was unacceptable children were still being placed in detention more than six months after the panel handed down its report.

"My view is that if those safeguards aren't in place - for example, if children remain in detention or anyone remains in arbitrary detention - then we shouldn't be sending people to those arrangements until there's an agreement that they can operate in the way in which the panel recommended,' Mr Aristotle.

"If they (the government) can't rectify that situation straightaway, then my view is that children and their families should be returned and managed and processed here in Australia."

Asked if the detention centres should be closed down until all of the expert panel's recommendations were put in place, Mr Aristotle said: "Absolutely. I mean ... the panel didn't establish those safeguards just for the hell of it."

The government is yet to implement the full suite of measures outlined by the expert panel, which was headed up by retired defence chief Angus Houston.

Mr Aristotle said the main feature of the panel's report - the development of a regional framework to speed up asylum seeker claims - was the key to addressing the issue.

"Nauru and Manus only provide interim arrangements or a circuit-breaker to create conditions where we had some influence to be able to do to quickly," he said.

"The real game and the real issue is to focus on establishing proper regional arrangements where we can use the increased quota that we've got, which is a very substantial increase to 20,000 places, plus 4000 additional family reunion places, $70 million for UNHCR and NGOs in the region to care for asylum seekers - that is the core of it."


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