Onus is on Australia for child safety - UN

THE international refugee watchdog has warned Australia will remain accountable for children sent to Nauru and should undertake ''vulnerability'' assessment for the welfare of under-age asylum seekers.

Child advocates and refugee lawyers have deep concerns about plans to send children without families to Nauru under Labor's revived ''Pacific solution''.

''This is a vulnerable group and care and responsibility rests with both governments,'' said Richard Towle, the regional representative for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The UNHCR has refused to be actively involved in the asylum seekers camp on Nauru, saying it felt the camp was ''a matter for Australia's responsibilities under the refugee convention''.

Yesterday, a plane load of 24 Sri Lankans and six Iraqis landed on Nauru, bringing the camp's total population to 96.

The government is scrambling to set up the camps on Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus Island, having so far failed to sign a contract with two of the three organisations responsible for their operation.

Manus Island residents are seeking $45 million to host the camp. The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, yesterday said arrangements were yet to be finalised.

In response to a motion by Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, the Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, released part of the health service contract for the camps, excluding payments.

The contract with International Health and Medical Services provides for limited psychological counselling for asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island, with much done by telephone.

Senator Hanson-Young blasted the process as ''shoddy''.

''It is unacceptable and wrong to be dumping refugees in indefinite detention before the arrangements for their care have even been drafted and agreed,'' she said in a statement.

''With no permanent psychiatrist on Nauru and the only councillors available to people on Manus Island at the other end of a telephone in Sydney, the level of care is simply inadequate.''

The government is yet to explain what arrangements will be made for children and teenagers after legal changes absolved Mr Bowen of legal guardianship of those sent offshore to have refugee claims processed.

In a television interview, Nauru's Justice Secretary, Lisa Lo Piccolo, said she had been informed such children would be looked after by Australia.

Mr Towle said the UNHCR believed all children should undergo a vulnerability and best interests assessment before being flown to Nauru. That would ensure those children at greatest risk of being traumatised by being sent alone to Nauru would not end up in that situation, he said.

The story Onus is on Australia for child safety - UN first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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