4 Jul 2014

Asylum seekers in Australia and Spain

This week I read an alarming article in an Australian newspaper. It described how poor the living conditions are for children in the immigration detention centres at Nauru and Christmas Island.

The article described Australia’s system of mandatory detention as ‘child abuse.’

Asylum seekers are mentioned again and again by Australian politicians. For a lot of people in this lucky country, asylum seekers appear as the biggest threat to their comfortable lives. Even in the latest national elections both liberal and labour parties emphasised that controlling this major problem was their key priority. Now we have ‘Operation Sovereign Borders,’ an utterly ridiculous title that could have been borrowed from 'Game of Thrones.'

Spanish children exiled in France during the Spanish Civil War are given bread.
Courtesy of Cervantes Institute

In Australia, it’s fear of losing the current wellbeing that turns people against asylum seekers. In Spain, it’s the precarious economic situation that turns people against immigrants from poorer countries and asylum seekers. According to recent report hundreds of children live in appalling conditions in the Centres for Temporary Stay of Immigrants, in the cities of Ceuta y Melilla, on the North of Africa but part of Spanish territory.

Both Australia and Spain signed the Geneva Refugee Convention agreement of 1951 as well as the Declaration of the Rights of the Child . Yet reports of the situations endured by children in the detention centres of both countries fail to honour either.

'The child shall have full opportunity for play and recreation, which should be directed to the same purposes as education; society and the public authorities shall endeavor to promote the enjoyment of this right.’ (Declaration of the Rights of the Child.)
‘The child shall enjoy special protection, and shall be given opportunities and facilities, by law and by other means, to enable him to develop physically, mentally, morally, spiritually and socially in a healthy and normal manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity.’
(Declaration of the Rights of the Child.)

The headline in the news item published in The Guardian Australia was poignant: ‘A child will die in immigration detention unless the system changes.’ I wonder if a child’s tragic death while in detention would it actually change government’s policies or the public perception of asylum seekers. I’m afraid I’m not sure it would.