Saturday, 6 August 2011

UNICEF | Malaysia Solution to leave kids traumatised

Colin Barnett
THE Gillard government's insistence on deporting unaccompanied children to Malaysia is illegal, will traumatise and psychologically scar the minors, and will damage Australia's international reputation for compassion, the UN children's agency has warned.

UNICEF yesterday made its strongest appeal yet for reconsideration of the government's hardline stance, saying Canberra's determination to deport 14 unaccompanied children to Malaysia was unprecedented in recent memory.

The Australian head of UNICEF, Norman Gillespie, said he was at a loss to explain the "cold and calculating demeanour" that had come over the government in the past 24 hours. "From a humane point of view, the world is watching this," Dr Gillespie said.

"From a so-called developed and civilised society, this is a very extreme act. And I would ask the minister to use his discretion on these very vulnerable cases of unaccompanied children.

West Australian Premier Colin Barnett yesterday expressed his disgust at the prospect of unaccompanied children being sent to Malaysia.

"My personal view - and I probably won't win many friends in the Liberal Party - I think it is absolutely indefensible for Australia, a prosperous country, to send children by themselves to another country," Mr Barnett said.

"I think we are failing in humanity in doing that."

Yesterday Immigration Minister Chris Bowen reaffirmed his intention to deport 55 newly arrived asylum-seekers to Malaysia, including 14 unaccompanied children of whom, UNICEF says, he is the "legal guardian".

Mr Bowen defended his decision, saying a strong message had to be conveyed that there would be no reward "for people who put their children on a boat".

"My position has not changed one little bit, and that is: no blanket exemptions," he said on ABC radio.

"We would have a case-by-case approach to any particular vulnerabilities."

It is understood there is growing unease at UN agencies over the government's policy on deporting children.

Mr Barnett questioned what the critics of the Howard government's Pacific Solution were doing.

"I wonder where those people are today that criticised the Howard government," he said. "At least, in that era, Australia retained responsibility for people, including children. I just think it's an indefensible position for Australia to have taken."

Speaking from Bangkok, a senior official from the International Organisation for Migration expressed surprise to this newspaper when told the 55 deportees included 14 unaccompanied minors.

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