Australia's asylum policy is 'barbaric' - priest

A priest in Australia has spoken out against the Australian government's policy towards asylum-seekers, calling it "barbaric" and a sign of the government's failure in its responsibility to provide care for children in its jurisdiction.

"The world's most vulnerable children are being deliberately detained and harmed for seeking asylum," Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office Director, Fr Maurizio Pettena, told the Catholic News Agency.

"It is with deep sadness that we read the findings of the (Australian Human Rights Commission's) report on children in detention," he lamented. 

Fr Pettena was referring to the recently-published report by the Commission, titled "The Forgotten Children," that reviewed the conditions of child asylum-seekers who were detained for 15 months in detention camps in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

According to the Commission, 128 detained children inflicted injury upon themselves, while 33 claim to have been sexually assaulted, and 27 refused to eat as a form of protest against their detention. In addition, 171 children threatened to injure themselves.

The child asylum-seekers fled their home countries to seek asylum and came on board boats. They are normally trafficked from Indonesia, but are intercepted by ships from the Royal Australian Navy before they can see Australian shores.

Fr Pettena criticised the Australian government's policy towards the asylum seekers, and its decision to send intercepted children to localities that are potentially dangerous for them. The priest said the situation was leading to "innumerable cases of mental illness, developmental delays, sexual assaults and self-harm."

"The findings in this report on children in detention leave no doubt about its credibility," Fr. Pettena concluded. 

The priest said that the policy was a clear violation of children's rights under the Convention for the Rights of Children and urged the government to examine its policy and release the 800 children currently in detention.

"All eyes are now on Australia, to see how we as a nation respond to this inquiry," the priest said.