Countering PM Tony Abbott’s lashing out at the Human Rights Commission’s findings in The Forgotten Children, Lachlan Dale offers solutions to help get asylum seeker children out of detention.


On Thursday morning a 300 page report, The Forgotten Children, was released by the Human Rights Commission.

The Forgotten Children explores the effects of Australia’s “refugee policy” on children. It is based on interviews with over 1,100 kids; on verifiable data; on interviews with mental health experts; and on analysis supported by detailed academic research. The report says that children locked up in Nauru “are suffering from extreme levels of physical, emotional, psychological and developmental distress” and that over 100 children have been on suicide watch, with over 120 children having self-harmed.

One 12-year-old girl wrote to the researchers of The Forgotten Children:

I am 12 years old and my life is really bad and I leave in a jail. Why I have a bad life. I think to stay in the room for ever when I go because if I stay in room no eat no drink. I will die. Better I kill myself.

In an interview another said:

My father and brother were killed. I saw death on the way here. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have to be.

They interviewed the guy who was the Director of Mental Health for the company contracted to provide medical care to these centres. He said:

…it’s quite clear that we’ve got a large number of children with significant mental distress and disorder in this population.

This might shock some people, but to people who are close to this issue none of this is surprising or new. We’ve long known that locking kids up like this destroys their mental health – it’s well established.

The problem is that many are convinced that we’re doing the “right thing.” They pretend as though only have two choices:

1: Let thousands of people drown at sea, or;

2: Break international law and severely damage men, women and children.

Neither of these seem great, and I suggest others might exist. It’s here where people usually say, “Oh, what do are we going to do? Let them all in?”

No, that would be stupid – but there really is no shortage of options. One would be to do exactly the same thing as we are doing now, but actually process refugees. This isn’t a huge tweak, but it’s an improvement.

Another option would be to openly and publicly collaborate with other nations to increase regional resettlement intake. Not only would we cut down on all the suffering, but this would save us the huge cost of locking thousands of people up indefinitely.

Another option again could be to work with an organisation like the United Nations to try and address refugee influx within the parameters of human rights law (instead of stomping all over it).

Or how about making a few tiny adjustments to conditions to chill out on the whole “inflicting intense psychological harm” thing? Maybe we could look at changing a few things to reduce the crazy prevalence of suicide attempts.

See? There are no shortage of options. But exploring them requires political will and leadership – and our politicians are just not game. They’ve backed themselves into a corner, and benefit from staying there.

Why change when the alternatives are hard work?

Well, because just accepting the suffering of kids on our watch isn’t exactly easy either.


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