A recent report prepared for the Gillard Government reveals that Labor’s neglect has left refugee children vulnerable to online predators.
The report, Unaccompanied Humanitarian Minors (UHM) in Australia, produced by the Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, was released on 16 October this year.
The report reveals that as at 30 June 2012, there were 865 refugee children living in Australia without their parents and that “…some young people arrange their own carer (sometimes via Facebook or other social networking) with someone with whom they have only a loose connection.”
Now to put that in context for anyone who is a parent or for anyone who cares about the welfare of children, imagine your child being in a strange country by themselves, without you being there to protect them, using the Internet to find someone to look after them. Does this sound like a good system to you?
Before answering that question, it may be instructive to note the report’s further advice that: “Such carers may only be a few years older or are older adults with whom they (the refugee children) have no connection at all.”
Well, as difficult as it is to believe, the Department of Immigration and Settlement apparently thinks this is a satisfactory arrangement.
In response to concerns I raised in the media on 21 October following the release of the report a departmental spokesperson is quoted as saying: “UHMs are not placed in a permanent care arrangement by (the department) without an assessment of the suitability of that placement.”
The department is also reported as saying it was satisfied the current arrangements were not putting UHMs - or minors who arrive through the Offshore Humanitarian Program – in risky situations.
Such statements are staggering having regard not just to the fact that this information was specifically highlighted in the report under the heading ‘Unsuitable guardianship arrangements and/or breakdown of guardianship arrangements’, but also, as any diligent parent will tell you, the well-known vulnerability of children to the perils of predatory behaviour on the internet.
I would like Minister Bowen to explain how any care arrangement involving refugee children finding their own carers through Facebook or social media can in anyway be considered to be suitable.
Apart from being referred to by the impersonal acronym of UHMs (young people under 18 years of age), the Gillard Government needs to remember that these children are already incredibly vulnerable. They are in a new country by themselves, many of them come from traumatic situations in their home countries, they largely do not have strong language skills and now through the Government’s ineptitude are being exposed to all kinds of predatory behaviours by having to find their own carers on the internet. They are effectively being thrown to the wolves.
The report makes for disturbing reading from cover to cover, which may also explain why the Government went to great lengths to avoid releasing the report prior to having its’ findings examined by the Coalition in detail during Senate Estimates hearings on 15 October. The report was released the very next day.