Hundreds of children held in detention camps
More than 900 children were detained last year in immigration detention centres, described by human rights watchdogs as modern-day concentration camps, the Federal Government said yesterday.
On the eve of a visit to Sweden to examine alternatives to detention for women and children, Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock said 914 minors had been held behind barbed wire in camps such as Woomera during 2000.
He said more than 200 of those were still locked up with parents or relatives in December, with more than 30 having been held for more than a year.
``Of these, 46 per cent have been in detention for less than three months,'' Mr Ruddock said.
``Thirty-eight per cent have been in detention for greater that three months and 16 per cent have been in detention for greater than 12 months.''
Mr Ruddock arrived in Sweden last night for talks with officials there on an alternative detention regime for illegal arrivals.
He is expected to meet the deputy head of Sweden's detention system, Rickard Peterson, to consider options for releasing women and children into community housing rather than keeping them locked up.
Australia, besieged by almost 4000 boat people over the past year, enforces a policy of mandatory detention for all illegal arrivals, housing them in remote camps in Western and South Australia.
The Swedish model allows women and children to stay in nearby community housing while enjoying full visiting rights to their husbands and fathers during the day.
Children under 18 may not be detained for more than three days except in exceptional circumstances, while most inmates are rarely held for more than two months.