South Australia’s leading non-government organisations will offer support and housing in the community for families with infants being held in offshore detention. It follows reports of desperate mothers self-harming and attempting suicide on Christmas Island.
Organisations including AnglicareSA, Baptist Care, Centacare, CareWorks SA & NT, Lutheran Community Care, The Salvation Army and Uniting Communities will approach the Department of Immigration today at 10am (available for media outside from 9.45am). The organisations have a proposal offering to house and support detained families with infants who have been born in Australia, allowing them to live in the South Australian community while their claims are processed.
These organisations already support refugees in the community and this support would be an extension of services for asylum seekers while their claims are processed.
At least 71 children have been born in Australia to women seeking asylum. Some mothers are brought to the mainland to give birth before being returned to off-shore detention, while others in the on-shore network have been deported to Christmas Island with their young babies.
Mothers who have self-harmed fear that Christmas Island is the first step towards being sent to Nauru.
The infants born in Australia are officially “stateless” and, with their mothers, should be allowed to remain in Australia while their claims are processed, the organisations say.
AnglicareSA CEO The Reverend Peter Sandeman says supporting families and children to live in the community while their claims are processed is best.
“The Federal Government, under the Migration Act, already says detaining children should be a last resort. AnglicareSA and other organisations already support new arrivals in the community and this would be an extension of our existing support,” The Reverend Sandeman says.
“It can take up to two years for claims to be processed. We would like to show compassion to asylum seekers and give babies the best start by accommodating them and their families in South Australia while their claims are processed.”
Uniting Communities CEO Simon Schrapel says the move for support is about protecting children.
“Babies and infants are the most vulnerable of all, they do not belong in detention and if we do not act to protect them Australia will be condemned by future generations,” Mr Schrapel says.
Baptist Care CEO Paul Scully says while none of the NGOs support the government’s plans for refugees, the most pressing need is caring for families with infants.
“One of the most difficult things for asylum seekers is the length of time it takes for their claim to be processed. If we can care for mothers and children in the community, and if the government is able to process refugee claims in a swifter manner it’s a better outcome for everyone,” Mr Scully says.
Lieutenant Colonel Ron Clinch, head of the Salvation Army in South Australia, says the organisation has always supported asylum seekers and those settling in South Australia, in partnership with other agencies.
“We would be well-placed to support families and children whilst their claims are determined on shore as an alternative to offshore detention,” Lieutenant Colonel Clinch says.
Lutheran Community Care director Helen Lockwood said supporting young families in the South Australian community would give families some certainty during a desperate time.
Members of these caring agencies will visit the Immigration Department at 55 Currie St, Adelaide on Thursday, July 10 at 10am to seek a meeting with the department and offer support to asylum seekers.
Representatives will be available for interview from 9.45am and again immediately afterwards.
AnglicareSA Amy Noonan 0427 07 55 66