Children under the age of 10 who are currently living in detention centres in mainland Australia will be released into the community on bridging visas, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has announced.
Mr Morrison said that the policy would see about 150 children released with their families, out of the “500-odd” living in detention in Australia.
The estimated 700 children living in offshore detention centres on Christmas Island and Nauru will not be eligible.
There are 1547 children under 10 and their families currently living in community detention housing will also be granted bridging visas, according to a report by The Australian.
Mr Morrison says the policy applies to children who were in detention before July 19 last year – the date that the former Rudd Labor government announced new boat arrivals would all be sent offshore.
So, what does it all mean?
Conditions of release
Mr Morrison said that the children who were being released would have better support with improved access to schooling, health care and English courses than under the Labor government.
“We have seen and all understand the issues of some of those released on bridging visas under the previous government being found in totally unsuitable accommodation in very distraught circumstances,” said the immigration minister.
The government has not wavered on its decision not to release children in offshore detention, saying that doing so would encourage people smugglers.
“I’m not going to put in place policies that [are] going to encourage children to get on boats, because when children get on boats, they die on boats, and I don’t think that’s a very good humanitarian outcome,” said Mr Morrison.
“This is the dividend of stopping the boats,” he said.
Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) inquiry
The news comes as Mr Morrison is due to give evidence under oath at an inquiry into children held in detention by the Australian Human Rights Commission.
AHRC investigations have found rising levels of self-harm among children in detention, with the government’s own statistics showing a six-fold increase in self-harm in detention following mandatory offshore resettling.
Mr Morrison is expected to be questioned by counsel and AHRC president, Professor Gillian Triggs, at the national enquiry in Canberra, according to a Guardian Australia report.
Mr Morrison has publicly called Professor Triggs’ observations of rising levels of self-harm on Christmas Island “quite sensational”.
Bridging visas allow asylum seekers to live in the community and legally reside in Australia while they apply for longer term visas.
Asylum seekers who have been granted bridging visas are not permitted to work and must also report to the Department of Immigration on a regular basis, according to the Australian Human Rights Commission website.
Individuals on bridging visas are not entitled to public housing or social security payments through Centrelink, and are unable to re-enter Australia if they leave the country.
What the other players say
Greens leader Christine Milne: “There’s just no excuse for locking up children and to say we’re going to lock up children and be cruel to them as a deterrent to others is an unacceptable way to behave,” Ms Milne told ABC.
Shadow Immigration Minister Richard Marles: “It was about time the Minister showed some compassion and embraced Labor’s push to not have children in detention.”
Asylum Seeker Resource Centre: “Immigration detention is no life for a child. We need to find a better way to care for our most vulnerable … Many [children] speak of their desperate need for freedom and their desire for a proper education.”