November 07, 2013
Law change in 2012 means immigration minister is no longer responsible for minors sent offshore.
Two unaccompanied minors on Manus Island may not have a legal guardian after federal legislation in 2012 changed the minister’s role for asylum seeker children sent offshore.
Guardian Australia reported on Thursday that two unaccompanied Iranian teenagers were being held on Manus Island as a result of anadministrative error. Amendments to Australia’s migration laws mean that it is now not clear who has responsibility for the teenagers.
Daniel Webb, the director of the Human Rights Law Centre, said: “Under Australia’s current laws, it’s mandatory for even unaccompanied children to be removed to offshore detention as soon as possible. Once that happens, Australian law takes legal guardianship of those children out of the minister’s hands without putting it into anyone else’s.”
“Whilst it’s clear that the minister tries to hastily wash his hands of legal responsibility for these kids, it’s absolutely unclear whose responsibility they become. International human rights law requires appropriate arrangements for the guardianship of unaccompanied children.”
Nauru has passed legislation making it clear that Nauru’s justice minister is the guardian of unaccompanied minors on the island. There does not appear to be a similar law in or agreement with Papua New Guinea that makes it clear who has responsibility for unaccompanied children in detention centres there.
Amnesty International has called for the teenagers to be returned to the mainland.
“If reports regarding this administrative error on the part of Department of Immigration and Border Protection are in fact true, Amnesty International calls for these minors to be immediately removed from Manus Island regional processing centre to the mainland, and placed in community detention,” says Sara Saleh, a spokeswoman for Amnesty International Australia.
“We are extremely concerned with the ongoing detention of vulnerable groups on Manus Island, including that of these two minors, and urge the government to end to offshore processing of all asylum seekers.”
In a report into third-country processing the Human Rights Commission raised concerns about the prospect of asylum seekers being sent to offshore facilities.
“The commission continues to have significant concerns regarding the arrangements for the care and custody of unaccompanied minors that in the future may be transferred to Nauru and Manus Island.”
“Hot, remote locations are not appropriate places to send asylum seeker children, or other vulnerable groups. The mandatory and prolonged detention of children on Nauru and Manus Island breaches the requirement under the CRC to detain children only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.”