Fri, Jul 29, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Australia releases detained children

MINORS IN DETENTION Responding to calls to reform the country's detention policy, 42 kids who cannot be returned to their country of origin have been released

AFP , SYDNEY

From left to right, Ian, 12, and Janie Hwang, 6, return to school last week after being released from Villawood Detention Center with their mother. The family were to be deported to South Korea in March but a Federal Court injunction kept them in Australia.

PHOTO: EPA

Australia yesterday abandoned one of the most criticized aspects of its immigration policy by releasing dozens of children from detention, while a Federal Court ruling left the way open for more than 1,000 asylum-seekers to escape deportation.

Facing a backbench revolt over its immigration policy, the conservative government of Prime Minister John Howard announced last month that children, and long-term detainees who could not be returned to their country of origin, would be released from immigration detention centers.

Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said 21 children were leaving Sydney's Villawood detention center yesterday and the remaining minors in custody would be free within 48 hours.

"As of this morning there were 42 children from 20 families in immigration detention centers. By the end of this week, there will be none," she said in a statement.

Australia's policy of mandatory detention for illegal immigrants, including children, has been strongly criticized by human rights groups here and abroad. The policy was credited with stopping the flow of mainly Afghan and Iraqi asylum-seekers from arriving in dilapidated boats from Southeast Asia.

"With this new, flexible approach for families, the government is maintaining its strong stance on border control while being sensitive to the special needs of families in detention," Vanstone said.

In a separate development, the Federal Court has ruled that the government cannot deport asylum-seekers whose temporary protection visas have expired unless it can prove their country of origin is safe. Wednesday's ruling means that people do not have to prove their refugee status again when their three-year visas expire. If they had been unable to prove their refugee status, they could have been deported.

In arguing his case for an unnamed Afghan man, Brisbane immigration lawyer Bruce Henry challenged the immigration department's assessment that the removal of the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban regime in Afghanistan meant the country was safe for his client to return. Canberra recently announced the deployment of 150 troops to Afghanistan to help fight insurgents. Henry said the ruling could open the way for 1,000 Iraqi and hundreds of Afghan asylum-seekers to remain here.

"What the court has said is that because people have already been recognized as refugees, the question that the department and the tribunal have to be asking is, `Is there a good reason why this person has ceased to be a refugee?' and not `Can they prove a case all over again?'" he told ABC radio.

"It means that all of the TPV [Temporary Protection Visa] holders that have been refused visas should now have their cases reviewed."

The government could mount a High Court challenge against the ruling.

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