Holding young people and adults together in immigration detention is "inhumane", an immigration lawyer says in light of a New Zealand teenager being held in these conditions.
A New Zealand boy, younger than 18, is being held in Australia in a Melbourne detention centre with adults, according to Australia's Department of Home Affairs. However, authorities have refused to reveal details of his conditions, despite repeated requests from RNZ. He is being held with another young person aged 16 or 17 and is one of 199 New Zealanders being held in centres across Australia.
Australian lawyer Greg Barns had represented immigration detainees and said locking up a boy because he was in breach of his visa was a new low for his country.
"Immigration detention centres are not designed for children.
"He would have none of the supports that you would, for example, have in a youth justice facility.
"He would be exposed to adults, not have family supports and, most importantly, he would be lacking any of the psychological supports that are also necessary when you're dealing with young people."
Australia had an appalling record, Mr Barns said.
"This is another breach of international human rights law by the Australian government. It's certainly a breach on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, of which Australia is a signatory.
"It's an inhumane practice because immigration detention is designed for short term stays - it's not designed for children."
Refugee Council of Australia figures of people in detention
- Key nationalities of people in detention: New Zealand (199), Sri Lanka (115), Iran (114), Iran (103)
- Number of children: in detention facilities (under 5), in Nauru Regional Processing Centre (22), in community detention (179), and in the community on a bridging visa E (3,103)
- Average length of detention: 416 days, with 263 people having spent more than 730 days in detention
- Numbers of people held in detention because they came seeking asylum by boat: 335, who have been there an average of 826 days
- Number of people in community detention: 452, from Iran (242), stateless (52) or from Sri Lanka (41), with 271 people having spent more than 730 days in community detention
- Numbers of people in held detention: 1,308 with key sites being Villawood (520), Christmas Island (330), and Yongah Hill (242)
Mr Barns said some people had been held in detention centres for two years while they waited for their cases to be processed.
Most New Zealanders were held after their visas have been cancelled. They faced deportation if they did not pass Australia's character test - the most common reason for failing is having been jailed for more than a year.
Police Minister Stuart Nash declined an interview but in a statement said he hoped any decision about the boy would be guided by an independent assessment of his best interests.
"We have expressed concern to the Australian government about the application of the visa cancellation provisions of Australia's Migration Act to young persons."
Mr Nash had been given details of the conditions in which the boy was being held.
"We understand that the young person shares a bedroom with another young person, but mixes with adults in the low-security detention facility over the course of the day."
The boy had received consular services from New Zealand officials and police, and Oranga Tamariki were prepared to respond should he be deported.
Detention was the last resort used by the courts because it led to poorer outcomes, Mr Barns said.
"And particularly with a young person, if they're then taken from detention in the youth justice setting and then shunted into the immigration detention system where there is in fact no support available for young people, and they're then exposed to an adult environment for a length of period that is not defined, and removed from their family, one can't imagine greater damage being done to a young person."
Despite repeated phone calls over two days, Australian immigration authorities declined to answer questions from RNZ.
RNZ was unable to find out why the boy is in detention, how long he has been held, his age, if any safeguards have been put in place, and whether he is able to complete education.