September 21, 2012
THE international refugee watchdog has said the Australian government will remain accountable for the effects of sending unaccompanied children to Nauru, and should undertake “vulnerability” assessment of children before they are sent.
The comments were made on the same day Fairfax revealed child advocates and refugee lawyers held deep concerns about plans to send children without families to Nauru.
“This is a vulnerable group and care and responsibility rests with both governments,” the regional representative for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Richard Towle, said.
UNHCR has refused to be actively involved in the asylum seekers camp on Nauru — which yesterday saw another planeload of 24 Sri Lankans and six Iraqis land, bringing the camp’s total population to 96 — saying they felt the camp was “a matter for Australia’s responsibilities under the refuge convention”.
In the past the immigration minister, a post currently held by Chris Bowen, was considered the legal guardian of all children processed through the Australian refugee system.
But under the changes to legislation introduced to parliament earlier this month, Mr Bowen is now absolved of his responsibility and Australia has yet to clarify who will replace Mr Bowen.
In an interview on local television, Nauru’s Justice Secretary, Lisa Lo Piccolo, said she had been informed that such children would be looked after by Australia.
“I understand Australia will be the one who will send guardians to care for such children,” she told Nauru TV.
Mr Towle also said the UNHCR believed all children should undergo what he called a vulnerability and best interests assessment before being flown to Nauru.
That would ensure that those children at greatest risk of being traumatised by being sent alone to Nauru would not end up in that situation, he said.