The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) [official website] on Monday launched an official government inquiry [press release; official inquiry] into the ways in which immigration detention affects the health, well-being and development of child detainees. According to AHRC, more than 1,000 undocumented immigrant children are currently detained behind "wire and steel fences" at closed detention facilities throughout Australia. In 2004, AHRC conducted a similar inquiry and concluded that such detention was "fundamentally inconsistent" with Australia's international human rights obligations and that detention for long periods created a "high risk of serious mental harm." In light of "significant improvements" in government policy resulting from the first inquiry, AHRC now seeks to investigate what, if any, changes have occurred for children within the nation's immigration detention facilities. According to AHRC President Gillian Triggs:
These children who are living and have lived in immigration detention need to be given a voice. Their stories need to be told. Their rights need to be addressed. We need to understand the long-term effects on children of living in such circumstances. And we need to encourage government to respond, once again, with humanity. It is my hope that the eventual findings of this new Inquiry will achieve this outcome.Triggs hopes the inquiry will align the nation's immigration detention practices with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which declares "the best interests of the child" a primary consideration in "all actions regarding children."
Immigration continues to be a serious issue in Australia. In November 2009 Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd issued an apology [JURIST report] to poor and underprivileged British children who were sent to Australia and other former British colonies over the last century with the supposed intention of giving them a better life, but were instead subjected to childhood of abuse and hard labor. In July 2005 Australia abandoned mandatory detention [JURIST report] for some undocumented immigrants, one of the most criticized provisions of its immigration law, releasing dozens of children. Australia's courts also paved the way for more than 1,000 asylum-seekers to avoid deportation. In June 2005 Australian Prime Minister John Howard loosened rules for mandatory detention of immigrants [JURIST report] who enter the country without visas to head off a revolt among members of his government over what are increasingly seen as unduly-harsh immigration laws.