David King, Christmas Island
AN eight-year-old boy orphaned in the Christmas Island boat tragedy will be reunited with members of his family.
The news came after confirmation that two aunts arrived on a following vessel.
It is understood the women were part of a group intercepted on Ashmore Reef on the same day as the disaster and who arrived on Christmas Island on Monday.
It is also understood that they were not aware of last Wednesday’s tragedy at Rocky Point before their arrival.
Three children were orphaned in the shipwreck, one a boy of about eight, who was until yesterday considered an unaccompanied minor. The other two orphans are a boy and a girl, who are cousins of about the same age. They were with members of their extended family who survived the sinking. The Department of Immigration and Citizenship will continue searching for the boy’s relatives in Australia. The department and the minister will have a continued duty of care over the child.
The aunts are expected to act as his family support network and any guardianship arrangements will be assessed later.
The care of the orphans on Christmas Island has become a hot-button political issue.
The Immigration Minister is the legal guardian of any orphan, but has admitted, since a damning Human Rights Commission report, a perceived conflict of interest. The commission said the minister was simultaneously the guardian, detaining authority and visa decision-maker.
In its response to the report, the department said: “The Immigration (Guardianship of Children) Act 1946 . . . creates the minister’s guardianship obligations towards certain children.
“It is recognised that the IGOC Act is outdated and not designed for the purpose for which it is now used. The government particularly acknowledges the perceived conflict of interest between the minister’s role as guardian under the IGOC Act and being the decision-maker under the Migration Act.”
The Greens said the tragedy highlighted an urgent need for a commissioner for children and young people to be created.
Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young said responsibility for asylum-seeker children should be taken away from Immigration Minister Chris Bowen, whose position was like that of a “jailer”.
As of Tuesday there were 334 children on Christmas Island, more than 10 per cent of the detainee population. Of those, 197 children were “accompanied” by a relative and 137 were considered “unaccompanied minors”.
The Christmas Island community has shown its generosity towards the 11 child survivors of the foundering and break-up of SIEV 221, and the many children in detention.
Locals have organised for hundreds of children’s presents to be collected and wrapped at the local Catholic church to be given to the all asylum-seeker children on Christmas Eve.
On Tuesday hundreds of teddy bears, stuffed toys, games of Twister and other gifts were being gift-wrapped. Long-term resident Susan De Cruz said she and her family were wrapping presents for the children at Phosphate Hill camp.
“Christmas is the spirit of giving and I think every child should have a present,” she said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING: MARK DODD