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One child still on Christmas Island

ONLY one child remains in immigration detention on Christmas Island, the federal government has said, in response to a medical journal yesterday highlighting the psychological damage mandatory detention causes child asylum seekers.

ONLY one child remains in immigration detention on Christmas Island, the federal government has said, in response to a medical journal yesterday highlighting the psychological damage mandatory detention causes child asylum seekers.

Psychiatrist Jon Jureidini of the Women's and Children's Hospital in Adelaide, writing in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, said detention had led to self-harm in children as young as 10, infants with separation anxiety, teenagers with severe depression and parents who had lost the capacity to care for children.

Dr Jureidini said he had firsthand knowledge from treating families, including a four-year-old child, with pyschological damage after being held in the department's Inverbrackie "alternative detention". He said children were being traumatised by intrusive procedures such as nightly head counts, and limited excursions or outings.

Alternative detention was harmful because of the control guards asserted over family movements, Dr Jureidini said.

He said he had seen "loving families destroyed by immigration detention process".

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said: "This is an outdated report. This government recently delivered on its commitment to get the majority of children out of detention facilities and into community accommodation."

The journal article, co-written with Julian Burnside, QC, noted more than 600 children under 16, and 226 preschoolers detained, as at May 2011.

Mr Bowen's spokesman said: "There are currently less than 280 children under the age of 16 in detention facilities. The minister has approved 1641 people for community accommodation, including 791 children."

Mr Bowen's spokesman said the one minor in detention on Christmas Island would be moved to the mainland as soon as he was medically fit.

Meanwhile, negotiations with Papua New Guinea to reopen an asylum seeker processing centre on Manus Island have become further unsettled, after PNG yesterday installed its new Prime Minister, Peter O'Neill.

Mr O'Neill takes over as Prime Minister from Sam Abal, who had been acting in the role since the retirement because of ill health of Sir Michael Somare.

Government sources said Mr O'Neill had been on record as a supporter of reopening Manus Island, but contact with the new government would need to be established.

The federal government wants to open a transit centre on Manus Island as a further deterrent to boat arrivals, beyond the expiry of the Malaysia deal for the next 800 asylum seekers.


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