In Australia, the plight of migrant children has made headlines in recent years, with the experiences of refugee children held in immigration detention on Nauru and asylum seekers inside the Manus Island detention centre providing a flashpoint in local migration debates. However, Australia's experience is one facet of a global phenomenon, with unprecedented numbers of children currently on the move.
Leading national and international academic experts and organisations working with child migrants – including the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), the Refugee Advice and Casework Service and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) – will come together at the University of Sydney this week to discuss key issues in child migration at the inaugural Children, Migration and the Right to Health Conference.
The Children, Migration and the Right to Health Conference will examine key issues facing the world’s child migrants, including in relation to their right to healthcare, education and other social services, and the ways the law can be used to effect change in immigration detention.
“The world is currently experiencing the highest levels of displaced people in recorded history. In particular, the number of children on the move worldwide – including those traveling alone – is alarmingly high,” said conference convener, University of Sydney immigration law expert Professor Mary Crock.
These children face a heightened risk of discrimination, disadvantage, exclusion and even physical and psychological abuse. This risk may be further exacerbated by other factors such as age, gender and disability, as well as socio-economic and citizenship status.
While the development of and support for human rights law globally has been a positive step towards improving the situation for migrant children, Professor Crock said recent years had seen “dramatic failures” in policy and practice in countries seen traditionally as leaders in this field.
“As recently as last month, news reports have outlined the harsh living conditions migrant children are facing at Border Patrol facilities in the United States. Earlier this year, a heartbreaking viral image showed the bodies of a Salvadoran migrant child and her father who drowned attempting to cross the Rio Grande into Texas,” Professor Crock said.
“In this context, the need to re-examine procedures, share knowledge and resources, and devise practical strategies has never been more important – to support and empower those children most at risk of falling through the cracks.
“The aim of this conference is to examine how we operate as professionals in the here and now to make a difference within the legal frameworks that govern our practice.”
The conference will have as a focus the workshopping of new guidelines on Working with Migrant Children and Young People Seeking Protection.
Conference speakers include:
The Children, Migration and the Right to Health conference is supported by the University of Sydney Law School, the AHRC, Macquarie Law School, the Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS), the Sydney Asia Pacific Migration Centre, and the National Justice Project. A full list of conference sponsors can be found on the conference program.
Top image: Refugee family at Azraq Refugee Camp, Jordan in 2014. Credit: Professor Mary Crock.