UNICEF Australia calls for bipartisan support to urgently transfer children from Nauru

SYDNEY, Thursday 18 October 2018 – UNICEF Australia said today that the urgency of the situation for asylum seeker and refugee children and their families on Nauru has been sharply highlighted with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) being directed to exit Nauru.
 
“The situation of asylum seeker and refugee children and their parents has been in decline over the last five years,” said UNICEF Australia Director of Communications, Jennifer Tierney. “This is the inevitable result of living for prolonged period in detention-like settings.”
 
MSF is the second reputable, international humanitarian organisation that has been asked to exit Nauru, creating additional critical gaps in services for asylum seeker and refugee children, as well as Nauruan children. 
 
The presence and proximity of independent, international non-government organisations is important for transparency, openness and building trust with refugees and local populations.
 
“The risk for children and families has been prolonged and is now extraordinarily high with no clear plan of action for removal and safe resettlement,” Ms Tierney said. “The removal of organisations providing critical care for children significantly increases risks such as the deterioration of mental health, further exposure to abuse, and impaired access to healthcare.
 
“Based on global evidence, we know that the risk of children self -harming, attempting suicide and the loss of life increases the longer they spend in detention like settings,” she said. “Under these circumstances, where children’s lives may be at risk, no solutions can be off the table.”
 
UNICEF Australia has consistently rejected the Australian Government’s claim that the survival and well-being of children subject to offshore processing is the responsibility of the Nauruan authorities. 
 
“We urge the Australian Government to put children first, and negotiate with the New Zealand Government to resettle those asylum seekers and refugees from Nauru that will not be included in resettlement arrangements with the United States,” Ms Tierney said. “Further, we urge both the Australian Government and the opposition to negotiate immediate bipartisan support for such measures.
 
“Australia is ultimately responsible for the protection of asylum seeker and refugee children on Nauru and failing urgent transfer to the United States, New Zealand or a suitable third country, Australia must provide them with permanent protection”, she said. “The human cost of offshore processing has been grave, and going forward it is time for the Australian Government to acknowledge that is a failed model.”
 
Ms Tierney pointed to the 2016 UNICEF Australia and Save the Children report, At What Cost?, which sets out the full human, economic and strategic toll of Australia’s deterrent and punitive immigration policies, and provides a plan for how the government could embrace a more humane and effective alternative that would provide greater protections for children and other asylum seekers and refugees.
 
UNICEF Australia and the Australian Child Rights Taskforce has expressed grave concern regarding the situation of asylum seeker and refugee children on Nauru in a report to the UN Children’s Committee which will be released on 1 November 2018.  Australia will continue to be the focus of severe scrutiny by the international community while our system of offshore processing continues.   
 
For more information, please contact:
Brinsley Marlay, UNICEF Australia, 0403 604 182, bmarlay@unicef.org.au