24 April 2012

Child’s letter sheds new light on Australian immigration detention

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A 10-year-old Vietnamese asylum seeker currently held in an Australian immigration detention centre has shed new light on the issue by writing an open letter to the Australian public pleading for her release.

Australian immigration

A Vietnamese child's pleading letter is likely to reverberate around Australia.

The girl, currently held at Darwin Airport Lodge, her third Australian immigration detention centres in a year since she arrived by boat in March last year, described her situation has 'extremely depressing'.

The unnamed girl said she and the other 25 unaccompanied Vietnamese children currently detained were 'very sad and hopeless', adding that the children are 'suffering' in their 'extremely depressing' state.

The letter, which has been translated from Vietnamese, says the children 'lack any sense of a future' and pleads to the Australian people for help.

"We don't know what else we can do. We don't know who will help us."

The letter has already prompted an outcry of criticism in Australia, where the mandatory detention of asylum seekers, particularly children, is already an intensely debated topic.

The Darwin Asylum Seeker Support Network (DASSAN) has claimed both the government and the public should respond to the issue.

"She's hoping, I think as we are, that she can be moved out of detention so she can start to living in the community and not be subject to incidences of self harm and suicide and all the other things that come with being detained," said DASSAN's Rohan Thwaites.

The debate surrounding detention centres reached its peak in summer 2011 when riots broke out at a Sydney detention centre after protests against overcrowding spiralled out of control. Meanwhile, a report by Amnesty International claimed conditions in the detention centres were inadequate and recommended the immediate closure of one centre.

Since then however, more asylum seekers have been granted an Australia visa and been released into community detention and numbers in detentions centres have eased. While boat arrivals continue to fuel the immigration debate, the condition in detention centres has largely remained secondary in the bitter dispute between parties.

Yet the Vietnamese girl's letter looks set to reignite the debate with the Australian Greens Party already claiming the letter is proof that Immigration Minister Chris Bowen is neglecting his responsibilities as guardian to accompanied asylum seeking children.

"This is an appalling circumstance, where we have a 10-year-old child pleading for help, not knowing who to turn to," said Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young.

"The immigration minister is this girl's legal guardian, the same person who is keeping her locked up for almost a year, a child, a 10-year-old child."

The immigration department defended its treatment of minors in detention, claiming they are properly cared for. However, the department confirmed it would be 'looking into' the letter.

The Australian Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people lodge applications with the Australian Embassy London.

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