November 08, 2013
Immigration minister admits he was wrong about presence of minors at adult detention centre.
Two unaccompanied minors held in a small compound at Manus Island regional processing centre will be transferred back to Christmas Island after a series of errors by both the Coalition government and the former Labor government.
The immigration minister, Scott Morrison, told a press conference on Friday that there were “no unaccompanied minors on Manus Island” but was later forced to issue a correction to Guardian Australia admitting the two boys were still there.
“At my press conference today I stated that I understood there were no unaccompanied minors currently located on Manus Island as I had been under the impression they had been transferred to an alternate facility,” the minister said in a statement.
“I can subsequently confirm that there are still two unaccompanied minors on Manus, who were transferred there by the previous government. I have instructed that they be relocated to Christmas Island as soon as possible.”
On Monday Guardian Australia revealed that two unaccompanied minors were being held in isolation on Manus and one had attempted self-harm. Later reports revealed that they had been transferred to Manus as the result of administrative error.
On Thursday both boys, 17 year-old Arvin and 16-year-old Tinshwe,spoke out about their situation.
“Every day I am crying,” said Arvin, who comes from Iran. “I’m very sad here … I say I want to go to school but they say you have to stay there [inside the compound].”
Tinshwe told Guardian Australia: “I can’t sleep at night … I am very sad … Here is too small [a] space. Me and Arvin [are] not too much okay because he and me [speak] different language.”
Morrison said both children would be transferred to Nauru at “a later time” – confirming that the current government had plans to transfer unaccompanied minors whose legal guardian is the minister himself while on Australian territory, to offshore processing.
Morrison, who was questioned three times during the Friday conference about the two unaccompanied minors, issued a range of contradictory responses.
He was also unable to articulate who the two unaccompanied minors’ legal guardian was on Manus, indicating both had been stuck in a legal limbo.
Extracts from Operation Sovereign Borders press conference, held on 8 November, relating to unaccompanied minors on Manus Island:
Oliver Laughland: Minister, there are currently two unaccompanied minors being held in Manus Island detention centre in a small room. They were transferred there a number of months ago and you visited Manus a number of weeks ago. Were you aware of their presence at the time of your visit?
Scott Morrison: There are no exceptions to offshore processing under the Coalition government for people who arrived after 19 July.
Oliver Laughland: They were transferred as a result of an administrative error though, they were transferred under the ALP in July …
Scott Morrison: People who arrived after the 19 July under the Coalition government’s policy are subject to offshore processing, and that applies equally across the board.
Oliver Laughland: So you’re not going to comment on whether you were made aware of their presence at the time of your visit?
Scott Morrison: Well, I’m telling you that there are no exceptions to the policy.
Oliver Laughland: So can we take that as a yes?
Scott Morrison: You can make whatever interpretation that you might want to leap to, as you occasionally do I’ve noticed, but I would simply say there are no exceptions to the policy.
Oliver Laughland: You’re on the record minister as saying that Manus Island is not an appropriate place for families or children, so by your own record surely you’d be trying to get them off there?
Scott Morrison: There are no exceptions to the policy.
Paul Farrell: Who is the legal guardian for the unaccompanied minors, or any unaccompanied minors who would be transferred to Manus Island?
Scott Morrison: When they’re in Australia they’re under our guardianship.
Paul Farrell: And what about on Manus Island?
Scott Morrison: It’s the same arrangements for Nauru
Paul Farrell: Are you saying …
Scott Morrison: You’re misunderstanding the operations of Manus Island. Manus Island is used for SAMs. It’s used for SAMs, single adult males.
Paul Farrell: So you’re saying there will never be any unaccompanied minors transferred to Manus Island?
Scott Morrison: We don’t provide those facilities on Manus Island. We provide those facilities on Nauru.
Paul Farrell: You’re saying no unaccompanied minors have been or will be transferred?
Scott Morrison: Well, I can’t speak for the actions of the previous government.
Oliver Laughland: Minister, with regards to the two unaccompanied minor children being held on Manus Island, are you aware of who their guardian is?
Scott Morrison: Again, you’re suggesting someone is on Manus Island.
Oliver Laughland: The regional processing centre on Manus Island?
Scott Morrison: So you’re suggesting they are on Manus Island. I can’t confirm that they’re on Manus Island.
Journalist: Minister, are there unaccompanied minors on Manus Island or Nauru?
Scott Morrison: My understanding is there are no unaccompanied minors on Manus Island.