The Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers (ANZASW) wishes to communicate its strong opposition to the practice of keeping migrant, asylum-seeking and refugee children in detention and separating them from their parents.
ANZASW notes with grave concern that, according to the Global Campaign to End Child Immigration Detention, state agencies in more than 100 countries detain child migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.
We are particularly appalled by the fact that of these countries, the United States, the most influential and powerful nation on earth, has not only been detaining but separating children and babies from their parents in immigration centres near the border with Mexico.
Although President Trump issued an executive order in recent days to end separations, the victims were allowed to suffer for far too long. We wish to make it absolutely clear that we believe this heartless and unnecessarily cruel practice - which official government spokespersons shamefully attempted to defend - should never have occurred in the first place.
We note that the Executive Order contains no provisions to reunite those families whose lives have already been torn apart by separation, allows for the indefinite detention of children and does nothing to end the policy of prosecuting migrant families.
Amnesty International has said that the American policy of separating migrant families in detention amounts to “nothing short of torture” for the affected children. It is beyond unconscionable that the United States, which has for so long styled itself as a champion of democracy and human rights, could adopt such a demonstrably abusive approach to handling the challenge of migration and asylum seeking, when a host of other options were available to them.
As social workers know well, the separation of children from their parents can have lifelong consequences, severely impacting emotional and psychological wellbeing. The trauma of isolation will doubtlessly have been worsened by the fact that the victims were immured in cage-like cells; a journalist who visited one of the facilities said that what he saw resembled “animal kennels”
We are pleased to note that the government of Aotearoa New Zealand has issued a statement welcoming an end to the practice and that they have conveyed their concerns about it to the government of the United States.
Despite the reversal on separation, ANZASW remains opposed to the US’ ongoing practice of detaining migrant families. A United Nations group of experts has determined that, under International Law, immigration detention should only be used when all other options have exhausted; we believe that the appropriate model for dealing with migrant or refugee families whose status is under review is for them to be housed in community-based settings.
The practice of child migrant detention is still far too common around the globe. For example, we note with deep regret that the Australian government continues to detain children refugees and asylum seekers in facilities on the islands of Manus and Nauru where the victims experience conditions that Amnesty International has said amount to “torture.”
We appeal to the governments of the United States and Australia, both long-standing allies of Aotearoa New Zealand, to revise their policies of routinely detaining vulnerable child migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. Furthermore, we call on them to provide appropriate therapeutic care and support to the children traumatised by these appalling practices.