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Australia to free scores of children from immigration detention centres

The Australian government has announced that it will release around 150 children held in immigration detention centres, as Canberra faces pressure over its controversial immigration policy and criticism that detaining minors is detrimental to their mental and physical health.

SINGAPORE:: The Australian government has announced that it will release around 150 children held in immigration detention centres, as Canberra faces pressure over its controversial immigration policy and criticism that detaining minors is detrimental to their mental and physical health.

Bridging visas will allow these children to live in the community while their claims for asylum are being processed. They are the more fortunate ones. A further 300 other children being held offshore will be excluded from this arrangement.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison will field questions about children in detention at a human rights commission inquiry on Friday. It follows damning reports about the welfare of asylum seekers being held on Christmas Island, Nauru and Manus Island - Australia's three main offshore detention centres.

Humanitarian groups say the rights of children in detention - particularly on Nauru - have been systematically violated, citing a lack of food, sanitation and security - with case studies revealing children at risk of sexual assault and suffering from social isolation. The Australian government has denied these claims.

Paul Power, CEO of Refugee Council of Australia, said: "Clearly the evidence coming from people working in the system in Nauru through the Australian Human Rights Council Inquiry into children in detention is so damning that the Australian and Nauruan governments must act to change the situation. It would be shocking if both governments worked together to continue to damage people."

Mr Morrison has been the frontman for a divisive border protection policy, one aimed at preventing refugees reaching Australia by boat. If they do, they are guaranteed not to be settled on the mainland, a law introduced mid last year.

Mr Morrison said: "I don't think encouraging children to get on boats where they can die at sea is an acceptable humanitarian outcome. So this government won't be watering down its policies on border protection that are saving lives at sea, particularly saving the lives of young children."

The hardline approach has been largely successful in stopping the influx by sea, but critics argue Australia is failing its international obligations to protect refugees fleeing conflict and persecution.

And the latest case - immigration department emails showing Canberra actively sought to return Syrian refugees to their home country despite the high risk of death and trauma - puts Australia in a particularly damning light.

Dr Ian Cook from Murdoch University said: "This is not us appearing to be good people. We're appearing to be cold, harsh and quite cruel. So I think this is changing people's perceptions of Australians."

Canberra is working on an alternative refugee resettlement location. It is poised to announce an arrangement with Cambodia to house up to 1,000 refugees currently in Australian detention.