ECA Position Paper on Children of Asylum Seekers, Children of Refugees and Children in Detention
Half of the world's refugees are children. They need special protection and care.
Children are physically and psychologically less able than adults to provide for their own needs or to protect themselves from harm. They must rely on the care and protection of adults.
Children's developmental needs are often not considered in relief efforts. Basic health care, nutrition and education are generally recognised as necessary for the healthy development of children. Beyond these, however, healthy psychosocial development depends in large measure on the nurturing and stimulation that children receive as they grow, and on the opportunities that they have to learn new skills. For refugee children, healthy development and wellbeing also requires coping effectively with the multiple trauma of loss, uprooting from culture and place and often more damaging experiences. In short, tragic long-term consequences may result where children's developmental needs are not adequately met.
Refugee children share certain universal rights with all other people, have additional rights as children and particular rights as refugees. The Convention on the Rights of the Child provides a comprehensive framework to guide the development of policy and practices that relate to children. This paper provides additional advice about what needs to be considered in the development of policy and practice to ensure appropriate protection and assistance for refugee children.
Children's needs must not be addressed in isolation. They are met most effectively within the context of family and community. A child's welfare is closely linked to the health and security of the primary caregiver, who is usually the mother. It is therefore necessary to strengthen the capacities of refugee families to meet their own needs and improve the participation and situation of refugee women, thereby contributing significantly to the welfare of their children.
Asylum seekers are people who have entered Australia, claiming refugee status under the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and seeking the protection of the Australian Government. Some asylum seekers enter Australia without formal documentation or on false documentation. Other asylum seekers enter Australia with valid documentation and visas.
The treatment of asylum seekers in Australia varies depending on how they have entered the country and applied for refugee status. They may be placed in detention centres while their claims are processed or they may remain in the community while their claims are processed.
It is in the context of these immigration policies and practices that children of asylum seekers and refugees are experiencing their childhood in detention or in the Australian community.
Australia is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 37 of the Convention states that holding children in detention shall be used as a measure of last resort and only for the shortest time possible.
In order to support the best interests of children, the following principles should be applied to all policies and practices that relate to children of asylum seekers and children of refugees:
- Best interests
In all actions concerning children, the human rights of the child, in particular his or her best interests are to be given primary consideration.
Refugee children and children of asylum seekers are entitled to the same treatment and rights as other Australian children.
- Family unity
Preserving and restoring family unity are of fundamental concern.
- Family support
Actions to benefit refugee children and children of asylum seekers should be directed primarily at enabling their primary caregivers to fulfil their principal responsibility to meet their children's needs.
- Family participation
Where the special needs of refugee children and children of asylum seekers can only be met effectively through child-focused activities, these should be carried out with the full participation of their families and communities.
- Separated children
Unaccompanied refugee children must be the particular focus of protection and care.
- Cultural support
The provision of child care, health care and education for refugee children and children of asylum seekers should reflect their linguistic and cultural needs.
Families should be provided with suitable interpreters who speak their preferred language whenever they are interviewed or require access to services.
Care must be taken to maintain the confidentiality of information provided by children. There should be no disclosure of information that could endanger or compromise the child's family in Australia or their home country. Information must not be used inappropriately for purposes other than for that for which it is sought.
- Staff training
Those working with refugee children should receive appropriate training on the needs of refugee children.
In relation to refugee children and children of asylum seekers the primary goals are:
- To ensure the protection and healthy development of all children.
- To achieve durable solutions which are appropriate to the immediate and long-term developmental needs of children.
The following recommendations will help to achieve the goals and enable all children and their families to have their safety and wellbeing assured:
- Families with children and unaccompanied minors should be placed in the community while their claims are assessed.
- In the event that an application for refugee status is unsuccessful and families and unaccompanied minors cannot return to their home country, families and unaccompanied minors should continue to live in the community until such time as they can return home.
- Families should have access to the support they need to care for their children and participate in the community.
- Unaccompanied minors should have access to the support they need to participate in the community.
- All school-aged children should have access to the same education available to all other Australian children.
- All young children and families should have access to the same range of children's services and funding support available to all other Australian children.
- All children should have access to health programs and services.
- Language support should be available in the child's home language.
- Specialist support services should be available to help children and families cope with trauma.
- Temporary visas be abolished as they significantly contribute to the dislocation and the unsettled nature of the refugee status and are not conducive to the rearing of healthy children.
In order to achieve successful outcomes for children it is necessary to secure the cooperation of all departments and agencies involved in the support of children and their families. In relation to refugee children and children of asylum seekers, solutions need to be put in place that are appropriate to their immediate and long-term developmental needs. Early Childhood Australia is unequivocal in its call that these solutions do not include the incarceration of children, or their separation from their families.
UNICEF (1990). Convention on the rights of the child. www.unicef.org/crc/crc.htm
United Nations High Commission for Refugees (1993). UNHCR Policy on Refugee Children. www.unhcr.ch/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/protect/opendoc.htm?tbl=PROTECTION&page=home&id=3d0da1f24
United Nations High Commission for Refugees & International Save the Children Alliance (2004). Separated Children in Europe Program. 'Statement of Good Practice' (3rd edn). www.separated-children-europe-programme.org/separated_children/good_practice/index.html