PM - Friday, 29 July , 2005 18:26:00 - Reporter: Samantha Hawley
MARK COLVIN: All children and their families are now out of Australia's immigration detention centres. Since Wednesday, 42 children from 17 families have been released from five separate detention centres, including the Christmas Island facility, which is now vacant.
It means the Federal Government has met the deadline set by the Prime Minister six weeks ago when he announced a softening of the Government's mandatory detention policy and promised to release all children from behind the razor wire.
Now it will be largely up to non-government organisations like the Red Cross to help the families settle into Australian life.
Samantha Hawley reports.
SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Gordon Thomson, the President of the Christmas Island shire, says he raced to the local airport this morning to farewell 11 Vietnamese detainees, who've been granted Temporary Protection Visas after being detained since 2003.
He just missed them.
GORDON THOMSON: I was told to go up there between 11 and 12, and we'd be able to wave at the people on the bus and sort of give a cheerio, but as I was driving up to the airport the plane was taxiing down the runway at 10 past 11, so we got dudded on our one small mission to say goodbye.
SAMANTHA HAWLEY: The Christmas Island detention facility is now empty, although the Federal Government says it will remain open.
Mr Thomson is disappointed the local community wasn't able to give the last detainees a better farewell.
GORDON THOMSON: What was very good was that we did get to wave at the plane as it was taking off, and it was… quite a few tears.
SAMANTHA HAWLEY: There were tears as well, as a 20-year-old woman from the same Christmas Island family was released from a Perth hospital.
Refugee advocate, Kay Bernard, says the woman is now waiting at Buddhist temple in Perth to be reunited with the rest of her family.
KAY BERNARD: She can't believe that this has happened. She's very bewildered, and so thankful to the Australian people for accepting her and her family that'll fly in later on this evening into Perth, in freedom from Christmas Island.
SAMANTHA HAWLEY: She says the woman has been treated for depression.
KAY BERNARD: The Australian Government's been unable to ensure adequate health service delivery to the centre up there. It's well known that detention is damaging to people.
And yeah, for the sake of her life, she was flown down three weeks ago to ensure that she didn't lose any more weight. She's almost skeletal. And that's a direct result of being in detention.
SAMANTHA HAWLEY: The Immigration Department has confirmed that over the past two days 42 children have been released from the Villawood, Baxter, Port Augusta and Christmas Island detention centres.
A spokesman says they're now either moving to, or settling into, accommodation in South Australia, Western Australia and New South Wales.
But except for the 11 Vietnamese citizens who've been granted temporary protection visas, they're still considered to be in detention and will need to report regularly to immigration officials.
The Red Cross has been playing a large role in their settlement.
Robert Tikner is the CEO.
ROBERT TIKNER: We are essentially providing key services to the families that have been released in areas of housing, providing living expenses, health care, education, transport, and broader community support, and in turn the Australian Government is funding us to do that, and we're working very closely with other community-based organisations like St Vincent de Paul and the Hotham Mission.
SAMANTHA HAWLEY: It sounds like a huge job.
ROBERT TIKNER: It is a huge job, and all the advice that I have is that families are pleased to be leaving the detention centres, and their circumstances will be considerably better in the community.
Understandably it'll take some time for them to settle in and get used to their new circumstances, but it's our role, working with the other agencies, to give them all the care and support we can give to make that transition as smooth as possible.
MARK COLVIN: Red Cross CEO, Robert Tickner, with Samantha Hawley.