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Child in detention for 1113 days, only 25 Rohingya refugees accepted

A Rohingya family pictured in May who arrived by boat in Indonesia's Aceh province. Photo: Reuters

By Nicole Hasham
July 24, 2015

A child has been held in immigration detention for at least 1113 days and the Abbott government has accepted just 25 Rohingya refugees despite thousands fleeing persecution, official figures show, raising fresh criticism of Australia's hardline asylum-seeker stance.

The revelations follow alarming evidence to a Senate inquiry this week that revealed a child asylum seeker at the Nauru detention centre required medical treatment after allegedly being raped by another detainee in the shower. There have been 67 child abuse allegations at the facility.

Labor deputy leader Tanya Plibersek said on Friday that Australia's refugee intake should be doubled, as the party prepared for divisive debate on whether to adopt a policy of turning back asylum-seeker boats. She said all children should be released from detention.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott controversially replied "nope, nope, nope" when asked in May if Australia would do more to help alleviate the Rohingya crisis. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Information supplied by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and released by a Senate estimates committee this week showed that as of late May there were 136 children in immigration detention.

The longest had been held for 1113 days, or more than three years.

The department said one of the child's parents was subject to a "serious law enforcement issue". It said officials had offered to split the family so the children could be moved out of detention, but the parents declined.

The number of children in immigration detention has dropped substantially under the Abbott government, from a high of almost 2000 under Labor.

The average time a child has spent in detention under this government is 335 days – up from 295 days under Labor.

Claire Hammerton, a spokeswoman for ChilOut, which lobbies to free children from detention, said the human rights of every child should be met "no matter how they come to this country and … irrespective of the actions of their parents".

A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the government did not want any children in detention, but the remaining cases were "the most difficult".

"If we had not ended Labor's policies, the average time in detention for children would have grown much higher," she said.

Meanwhile, figures to May show the Abbott government had accepted just 25 Rohingya refugees since it came to power.

Thousands of Rohingya, an ethnic Muslim minority, have been abandoned by human traffickers and pushed back out to sea by Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia. Hundreds have died attempting to cross the Bay of Bengal.

The UN has described Rohingya in Myanmar as among the world's most persecuted people.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott controversially replied "nope, nope, nope" when asked in May if Australia would do more to help alleviate the Rohingya crisis.

Green senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the government had "done virtually nothing" to help Rohingyan refugees", describing the stance as "utterly shameful".

A department spokeswoman said Australia's humanitarian program "responds to humanitarian situations, and cohorts selected for resettlement will vary from year to year".

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