31 January 2012

Teenage asylum seekers left in Australian immigration detention centres

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Concerns about the welfare of young asylum seekers in Australian immigration detention centres are rising after the number of teenagers detained in a West Australia detention centre almost doubled since mid-2011.

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Despite pledges that children would be released from detention centres, there are still more than 1,000 held in centres across the country.

The Australian government began sending asylum seekers without a valid Australia visa to the isolated detention centre on the outskirts of Leonora, a small mining town in 2010. The move attracted substantial criticism at the time but an unannounced increase in capacity from 90 detainees to 160 has sparked outrage from refugee groups who protested the centre at the weekend.

Jim Epis, chief executive of Leonora Shire claimed that he had been unaware of the detention centre's increase in capacity but that new detainees had been arriving from the detention centre on Christmas Island in November 2011.

The Australian government pledged in 2010 to release children held in detention centres; a spokesperson for the Australian immigration department claimed that the young detainees were merely in transit and would only be at Leonora "for a matter of weeks".

However, Suzanne Jenkins, a child counsellor from Fremantle's University of Notre Dame, who spoke to teenagers inside the detention centre reported that several detainees had been held in the centre for over two years.

Mr Epis has raised concerns that the teenagers in the detention centre would no longer be attending the local school, despite an expansion to the school to accommodate the asylum seekers. Mr Epis blamed a dispute over funding between the state and federal governments:

"It seems just a waste that [the school] has been built and won't be used for the purpose it was built" he said.

The spokesperson for the Australian immigration department confirmed that the detainees would not be attending school and would instead be taught English, cooking and life in Australia within the centre, saying "it would be unnecessarily disruptive to the local community to move them into school and then out again a few weeks later".

Australian immigration has come to the forefront of Australian politics in recent weeks and these reports are only likely to intensify the issue with over 1,000 minors remaining in detention centres across Australia.

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

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