Page 5112 - Week 14 - Tuesday, 17 November 2009

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I note that the Human Rights Commissioner has noted particular concern about the treatment and detention of children in detention centres. The Migration Act states in principle that children should only be detained as a last resort. There is a real concern about the lack of clarity about responsibilities and procedures relating to child welfare and protection for children in immigration detention on the island. The fact is that we are still processing refugees offshore in an arbitrary fashion, in a way that goes against the grain of our human rights responsibilities.

I note here that the ACT has, in fact, adopted a human rights charter and that these things are making it harder for the refugees who do come to the ACT to adapt positively to their new life. The remote location and limited facilities and infrastructure on Christmas Island make it a very hard place to ensure implementation of the government’s new direction. We believe that immigration detention should be a last resort.

Australia has obligations to protect the human rights of all asylum seekers and refugees who arrive in Australia, regardless of how they arrive and whether they arrive with or without a visa. The less stressful this process is for refugees, the easier it will be for them to settle here in the ACT. I would like to share, in this context, a quote that stands out for me on this issue. Accepting the Sydney peace prize for 2009, journalist John Pilger made a valid point in regard to Rudd’s handling of the Oceanic Viking in stating:

It is both false and cowardly. The few people struggling to reach our shores are not illegal. International law is clear—they are legal …Why have weasel words like “border protection” become the currency of a media crusade against fellow human beings who we are told to fear, mostly Muslim people? Why have journalists, whose job is to keep the record straight, become complicit in this campaign?

I would now like to look at some ACT organisations which are helping to integrate and support the refugees and asylum seekers who have become part of our community in the ACT. The Migrant Resource Centre of the ACT provides a large range of services to recently arrived migrants to Canberra, and they include English classes, singing, conversation, pronunciation and tutoring. The English classes I would particularly like to comment on, because language skills are a vital part for people to become integrated into a new community. I would like to particularly acknowledge the tireless and unpaid contribution that many volunteers make in terms of English skills for new residents in our community. I am aware of quite a number of people, particularly women, who go into homes and are able to assist with tutoring in a culturally appropriate fashion.

The Migrant Resource Centre also has an after-school program for 12 to 25-year-old students from non-English-speaking backgrounds in high school, colleges, CIT, TAFEs or uni. They also have a job preparation program which helps migrants and refugees prepare for employment, including: access to training and finding employment; writing job applications and resumes; referrals to employers; preparing for interviews; and research skills. They also run a program designed to support young migrants and refugees in making healthy lifestyle choices around food and

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