The Best Interest of the Child – Australia’s Challenge

Afghan refugee children Photo UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

The Committee on the Rights on the Child held its 60th session in Geneva May 20 – June 15.  The Australia Government reported against the Convention on the Rights of the Child on June 4 & 5 and was open to question by the Committee.  Edmund Rice International (ERI) put forward a submission to the Committee based on evidence collected the Edmund Rice Centre (Sydney) staff that visited Afghanistan in February/March 2012.  Thirty-one deportees were interviewed and twenty-nine were found to be from their accounts ‘deported to danger’.  This life-threatening situation extended to their families including their children.

The ERC Director, Phil Glendenning in a recent media statement said: ‘In this visit to Kabul, further to our previous visits, we met and interviewed another 31 returned asylum seekers. Sadly, 29 of these 31 are living in extreme danger.  We confirmed the deaths of another two returnees and the kidnapping of one other who is now presumed dead.  The majority of these men are unable to live with their wives and children because of the risk their simple presence would pose to the safety of their family.  We were able to find a 17-year-old boy who was sent back from Australia last year and has ended up living on the street. One man I interviewed had recently survived a rocket being fired through his house. His wife and his father were killed instantly. He lives now in hiding in Kabul – along with his six children – all under the age of nine.  The returnees are being actively targeted for having left the country, because they are seen as being favourable to the West, and many are falsely held to have converted to Christianity.  We hold deep concern as to both the accuracy and independence of the information about the security situation for civilians in Afghanistan that was provided to asylum seekers whilst held in Australia’s detention centres.  The evidence provided by the returnees in our interviews indicates the systemic use of deceptive practices as part of a strategy to coerce the signing of forms accepting voluntary repatriation or to encourage acceptance of forcible removal from Australia.  These asylum seekers and their families should never have been returned to Afghanistan. They must not now continue to be forgotten.’

Edmund Rice International (ERI) recommendations to the Australian Government were:

a)     Ensure that deportees (including minors) from Australian refugee detention centres are not refouled to grave danger in Afghanistan that in turn endangers their families especially the well being of children.

b)    Insist that the processing of asylum seekers in detention in Australia includes an accurate assessment of the ‘the risk’ faced by deportees and their families especially children before asylum seekers are refouled to Afghanistan ensuring they are not deported to danger.

c)     In accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child Part 1 (3) 1. & 2. ensures the best interest of children of asylum seekers be given primary consideration and ensure such protection and care as is necessary for their well-being.

d)    In accordance with its obligations not to refoule valid asylum seekers, Australia needs to re-open the cases of those wrongfully deported.

The outcomes of the 60th Session were published in the Committee on the Rights of the Child Concluding Observations in ‘Consideration of Report submitted by States parties under article 44 of the Convention…concluding observations:  Australia.’

This report published 19 June, 2012 included this statement:

G.  Special Protection Measures

(d) Adhere to its High Court ruling in Plaintiff M70/2011 v. Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, and, inter alia, ensure adequate legal protections for asylum seekers and conclusively abandon its attempted policy of so-called “offshore processing” of asylum claims and “refugee swaps”; and evaluate reports of hardship suffered by children returned to Afghanistan without a best interests determination.

Furthermore, the Committee recommends that the State party consider implementing the United Nations High Commission for Refugees Guidelines on International Protection No.8: Child Asylum Claims under Articles 1(A)2 and 1(F) of the 1951 Convention and ratifying the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees.

The Australian Government has to respond to the recommendations in the Committee’s Report as a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the two Optional Protocols, ‘On the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography’ and ‘On the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict’.

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