Thousands of children are languishing in “dangerous and harrowing” conditions in detention centres across south-east Asia, a report has revealed. Children, including babies, are being held in cells 24 hours a day, alongside dozens of unrelated adults, and are frequently separated from family members.
More than 2,290 young refugees were being held without proper access to food, adequate health facilities or education in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia at the end of 2016, according to a joint report (pdf) by Save the Children and the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network.
The countries are key transit routes for hundreds of thousands of refugees seeking asylum in Australia after fleeing violence, poverty and conflict in countries such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar.
However, they are often intercepted during these journeys and treated as illegal immigrants by the authorities. They are detained for indefinite and sometimes lengthy periods without any judicial oversight, the report found.
“These children should not be treated like criminals,” said Mike Novell, Save the Children’s interim director for Asia. “The impact this type of environment has on children is extremely damaging. It can lead to developmental delays and self-harm while putting children at the very real risk of violence, sexual abuse and exploitation.”
The report, based on an analysis of immigration policies and interviews with a small number of child detainees, found young people held in “cramped and substandard conditions” were often forced to sleep on the floor or on cardboard and given “unpalatable” food.
In the most extreme cases, they were held in rooms so overcrowded that there was no space to lie down at night and fully extend their legs – or it was so hot that they found it difficult to breathe. Boys aged 12 or above were treated “as men” and children lacked privacy, were exposed to violence, and were deprived of outside space.
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