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Orphan to be with family in days

The Age

Friday February 18, 2011


NINE-YEAR-OLD Seena will now be released into community care in Sydney within days, despite being sent back to the Christmas Island detention centre with 20 other grief-stricken asylum seekers yesterday.Immigration Minister Chris Bowen confirmed last night accommodation had been found for the Iranian orphan and an aunt and uncle who arrived on Christmas Island days after Seena's parents perished in December, with around 50 others.He also announced that two other orphans from the tragedy would be placed in community care on the mainland after being returned to Christmas Island.Defending his handling of the case last night, Mr Bowen told ABC TV: "I had to get it right. I had to make sure all the necessary checks had been done and all the support and care was in place."The decision came as lawyers representing the boy's relatives prepared to mount a court battle to force his release and lodged a complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission that his treatment breached Australia's treaty obligations.The return of the grieving asylum seekers who were flown in to attend funerals for those who died in the tragedy was delayed by bad weather on Christmas Island. They were being accommodated near Derby last night after a stopover at Port Hedland.The imminent release of the boy into community care will not stem debate on why this did not happen before the funerals, given the warnings from mental health experts that returning him to the scene of the tragedy would increase his trauma.Critics question the quality of advice given to Mr Bowen and insist Seena and the other grieving relatives of those who died should have been removed from detention well before this week's funerals in line with the policy announced last October of moving children and families out of detention.A report on the likely psychological harm of his return by child psychiatrist Louise Newman, who chairs the government's detention health advisory group, was expected to be lodged in court proceedings today.Human rights lawyer George Newhouse said the action would seek to have Seena assessed by doctors of his extended family's choosing and released into their care.A separate complaint has already been lodged with the Human Rights Commission alleging the government has breached its obligations under the convention for the rights of the child.Mr Bowen said last night he had been advised to keep Seena with the aunt and uncle who had cared for him on Christmas Island, but said he would also be able to have contact with his extended family in Sydney.Seena's Sydney-based relatives, who had earlier met Mr Newhouse to prepare legal action, last night welcomed the news he would be released. They hadn't yet been informed by the government."It is very good news. I'm very happy," said Jaffar Ali Alghban, of Punchbowl, whose Iraqi wife is a cousin of Seena's mother.The announcement came after Mr Bowen had been heckled by protesters at a Harmony Day launch who attacked the decision to return the boy to Christmas Island.

© 2011 The Age

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