Children on Manus draw attention to plight

IN HER self-portrait, the 12-year-old girl's cheeks are streaked with tears as she stands forlornly beside a purple, boarded-up school. A lone palm tree is the only clue to her location: Papua New Guinea's Manus Island processing centre.

On Monday, Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young released drawings by some of the 34 detained children, saying they backed a scathing report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees released on Monday, which expressed grave concerns for the plight of children in the island camp.

The drawings showed high wire fences and children helplessly standing beside their weeping and prostrate mothers. ''The detention centre on Manus Island is robbing these children of their childhood,'' Senator Hanson-Young said.

Meanwhile, the Immigration Department confirmed that even internationally recognised refugees could be detained for up to five years in offshore centres on Australia's behalf.

Senator Hanson-Young told Fairfax a married Tamil couple on Manus Island had last week showed her cards showing they had been accepted by the UNHCR as genuine refugees in Malaysia before setting out to Australia on a boat.

Despite this, they face being trapped in a five-year limbo on the Manus Island ''processing centre'' after arriving in Australia after tough new no-advantage rules came into effect. ''As claims assessment has not yet commenced in either Nauru or PNG, it is not possible to verify claims made by some people that they have been found by UNHCR to be refugees,'' a spokesman for the department said.

Pamela Curr, from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, called on the international agency to intervene. ''The UNHCR has a responsibility to these people they have determined to be refugees,'' she said. ''And if these people have been placed into offshore limbo, the UNHCR has a responsibility to intervene.''

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