Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Monday announced a new strategy for dealing with overcrowding asylum seekers in Australia, including a move to release children from detention.
Under the changes, the government will partner with community organizations to transfer unaccompanied minors, children and families, who are awaiting decisions, into community-based accommodation.
The government will also open two new detention facilities, which can accommodate almost 2,000 people, to house an increasing number of asylum seekers arriving by boat to Australia.
According to Ms. Gillard, the announcement delivers on a commitment to balance the government’s policy of mandatory detention of unauthorized arrivals, with the humane treatment of those fleeing persecution.
“This is especially important for children, for whom protracted detention can have negative impacts on their development and mental health,” she told reporters in Canberra on Monday.
The move came as Australian Greens last week announced it will move to amend immigration laws to free more than 700 children and their families from detention.
According to Immigration Minister Chris Bowen, the department would move more children and families into community facilities run by churches and charities under departmental supervision.
Priority would be given to vulnerable families assessed to have experienced torture and trauma, who were at risk of mental health problems, and where a mother was pregnant. Children would also be made to attend school to lead a more normal life.
Mr. Bowen also added that the release of children and families from detention centre would be done on a case-by-case basis from now until June 2011.
Meanwhile, the two new detention centres will be located at Northam in Western Australia and Inverbrackie in South Australia, to cater for up to 1900 adult men.
The Northam detention center will be able to hold 1,500 males, while the facility at Inverbrackie will hold around 400 people and family groups.
Another site near Darwin will be prepared as precaution to take overflow, while the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation centre will also be expanded as part of a contingency plan.
Currently, there are almost 5,000 people in immigration detention in Australia in facilities on the mainland and on Christmas Island.
This article was corrected for a spelling error.