The Australian government confirmed Sunday that all the asylum seeker children that were being held in mainland immigration centers had been released. The children have now been moved to community centers, where they would be allowed to move around freely while their asylum requests are processed.
“Today we have no children of boats in detention. And that is a significant achievement of this government,” Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton told reporters in Brisbane, adding that the last group of children, held at a facility in Darwin, were released Friday night.
The removal of the last IMA child from detention shows the Govt has been true to its commitment to get children out of immi. detention
— Peter Dutton (@PeterDutton_MP) April 3, 2016
“It’s been almost a decade since there were no children in detention,” Dutton reportedly added.
However, the children may still be sent to the offshore detention centers in Nauru if the government rejects their applications. Currently, about 50 children are still being held in detention in the small island nation.
“Because of the way the law is set up, because of Australia's policy [and] because of their [the children’s] date of arrival in Australia, they're not eligible to apply for protection in Australia, so they do remain essentially in limbo until we see a change of legislation and a change of our policy,” Natasha Blucher from the Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network told ABC news.
Under its strict anti-immigration policy, Australia currently detains all asylum seekers arriving by boat, holding them in detention camps in Nauru and New Guinea. Over the past year, as the number of refugees fleeing conflict-hit zones in the Middle East has surged, the Australian government has increasingly faced severe criticism from several human rights groups over the conditions in these detention camps.
In a report published last February, Australia’s Human Rights Commission said that hundreds of refugee children were suffering from severe mental illness as a result of prolonged detention at these offshore processing camps.
Speaking to reporters in Brisbane, Dutton also rejected the allegations leveled by the Guardian, which, on Sunday, reported that the government had resorted to a “bureaucratic sleight of hand” to make it seem like the children had been freed. The report, which cited a source within the immigration department, said that the government had reclassified sections of detention centers as “community detention” so that it could claim that the children had been “released.”
“The same definitions apply today as they did before,” Dutton reportedly said.