Minister, show some heart

Written By miftah nugraha on Sabtu, 06 Juli 2013 | 19.55

PRESSURE is building on new Immigration Minister Tony Burke to move teenage asylum-seekers out of the Pontville detention centre as soon as possible.

Labor senator Lisa Singh yesterday wrote to Mr Burke, urging him to place the centre's young unaccompanied detainees in the community.

Her comments added to a growing chorus of concern at the length of time the boys were being held in the detention centre outside Hobart.

National Children's Commissioner Megan Mitchell also said she had written to the Department of Immigration about the need for community-based detention.

Tasmanian Asylum Seeker Support spokeswoman Emily Conolan noted that young asylum-seekers were being removed from the offshore detention centre on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and she urged Mr Burke to do the same at Pontville, which holds up to 300 boys aged 13-18.

"I don't think the recreational areas and schooling are problems," she said. "The management is trying hard to improve things.

"The primary concern is the length of stay. It contributes to depression and the disturbances and upsets we've been hearing about."

Ms Conolan said the boys needed clear information about what was happening to them and a definite time limit on how long they would be kept in the detention centre.

"It is time to make some demands that the minister acts on that," she said.

The Mercury this week contacted Mr Burke's office numerous times for comment on the situation at Pontville, but received no response.

He did give an interview on ABC TV's Lateline on Wednesday night in which he discussed Pontville and the issue of children in detention.

"I've put a very direct focus on this from the day I got the portfolio," he said. "I become by law their legal guardian from the moment that I become the minister and I take the responsibility very seriously.

"The information that I'm getting hold of now is not how many are there but how long they have individually been there. If you have children being held for a longer period of time, then you have a very different welfare issue.

"But what I also want to make sure of is I don't deal with it in a blanket way that creates a different problem of creating an incentive so that the smuggling operations think, 'OK, what we need to do now is put unaccompanied minors on the boats'. If I did that, it would be fundamentally against the welfare of children."

Up to 1000 Tasmanian households have offered to accommodate the young detainees but Ms Conolan said this was a complex issue.

"The home-stay program was never intended for children," she said. "The responsibility of putting a child into a home is similar to foster care and it takes effort and time and is difficult to organise."

philip.heyward@news.com.au


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