STATEMENT: Family unity for refugee families and children is paramount

Wednesday 6 December 2017 - Statement by Amy Lamoin, Director of Policy and Advocacy, UNICEF Australia:

“Family separation for refugees on Nauru and Manus Island remains a serious concern for UNICEF Australia, which has repeatedly provided advice to the federal government on the paramount importance of family unity.

UNICEF Australia understands Australian Border Force officials are telling refugees on Nauru they must separate from their spouse and children in order to apply for resettlement in the US. 

Placing people in a position where they have to make an impossible decision - one that may have life-long ramifications – to choose between their families and an option to live in a safe country with a feasible future, is unacceptable.

Family unity is one of the most fundamental principles in international law and there can be no exceptions.

Yet Australia’s offshore processing arrangements have fractured a number of families for over four years, and could now lead to permanent separation for children and their loved ones, who have already experienced severe grief and trauma.

It is an established fact that resettlement outcomes for refugees are known to be poorer when they are separated from close family members. Furthermore, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Australia is a signatory, requires that the best interests of a child must be a primary consideration in all decisions and actions affecting that child. All children should be protected by these rights, irrespective of their citizenship or status.

UNICEF Australia urges the Australian Government to consider the plight of children who have already suffered so much, and to take steps to ensure that the identified vulnerable families including children, can be reunited in an appropriate country, such as Australia, with adequate and ongoing support. 

UNICEF Australia is restating its call for the Australian Government to take immediate steps to ensure vulnerable families and children on Nauru are reunited with their families an appropriate country, such as Australia. 

Australia’s current policy of offshore processing has caused severe physical and psychological harm, and has deliberately split vulnerable families.

After four and half years of waiting for a durable solution, refugees in Nauru and PNG are now being forced to make an impossible choice – accept resettlement in the US but permanently leave your family behind.”