Rights group calls on Indonesia, Australia to protect boat children

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 September, 2012, 1:40pm
UPDATED : Monday, 10 September, 2012, 1:40pm

Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Monday called on Indonesia and Australia to take effective measures to protect child asylum-seekers stranded in Indonesia as they make perilous sea voyages to Australia.

Hundreds of children, especially unaccompanied ones, from countries including Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Myanmar face detention, mistreatment in custody, no access to education, and little or no basic assistance in Indonesia, the New York-based rights watchdog said citing its recent study.

The Indonesian government fails to provide them or their families opportunities to obtain legal asylum status, it added.

“Far too many children take incredibly risky journeys because they face no good choices,” the group’s children’s rights director Zama Coursen-Neff said in a statement.

“They can’t go home because of persecution or war, and they can’t stay put, because Indonesia doesn’t assist with basic needs or address their legal status,” she added.

“Unaccompanied migrant children attempting to transit Indonesia en route to Australia too often fall into a legal black hole in which their rights are denied and their health and physical safety are put at risk.”

Australia is facing a steady influx of asylum-seekers arriving by boat, many of whom use Indonesia as a transit hub, paying people-smugglers for passage on wooden vessels after fleeing their home countries.

Australian Immigration Minister Chris Bowen on Monday said he hoped to begin sending asylum-seekers to the tiny Pacific nation of Nauru later this week, to deter them from paying people-smugglers to attempt the dangerous sea voyage.

Scores of them, many originally from Afghanistan, have drowned while attempting these journeys.

In the most recent case, children were among more than 100 people believed to have lost their lives after their boat sank off the coast of Java last month, underscoring the need for better protection for them, HRW said.