ACCUSED people smugglers can be held in detention for three to nine months before formal charges are laid and their status as adults or children is raised, a parliamentary committee has been told.
The Northern Territory government lodged a submission with a committee looking into the incarceration of Indonesian minors in Australian prisons, saying that once formal charges were laid, suspected people smugglers were sent to adult jails to await trial. But this could take up to nine months, it said.
The NT government said 36 Indonesians were serving sentences at Darwin Correctional Centre, the youngest of whom was 20.
The committee will hold hearings this month, and is taking submissions, to establish whether any Indonesian children remain in adult prisons, and to explore compensating minors who have been charged (contrary to government policy).
On Friday, Attorney-General Nicola Roxon announced a review into 28 cases of Indonesians suspected to have been minors when they arrived in Australia had been completed.
She said seven more Indonesian people-smuggling crew members suspected of being children would be released from adult prisons and sent back to Indonesia.
It brought the number returned to Indonesia since the start of the inquiry to 15.
But Ms Roxon said it was government policy to release from custody any crew members thought to be under 18.
It was only the efforts of The Age, in tracking down the birth certificate of a child, Sam, that secured his release last month after two years’ detention. He repeatedly claimed he was a child, but no Australian official or police bothered to check or inform his family.
A spokesman for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship said authorities did everything possible to establish the age of boat arrivals.
The government established the review into smugglers held after the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Indonesian government raised concerns that children were being locked up in adult jails.
Of the 28 cases reviewed, as well as the 15 released over reasonable doubt they were adults when they arrived in Australia, another two were released early on parole, three completed their non-parole periods and eight remain in prison, with no evidence found to support their claims they were minors when they arrived in Australia.
The West Australian-based Indonesia Institute said minors who had been incarcerated in adult jails should be financially compensated for having been detained.
It recommended that adult crew members should be released on ”bail” within the Indonesian community in Australia while their age was determined.
The Indonesia Institute claims that young children and adult fisherman in remote parts of Indonesia have been targeted by smuggling syndicates.
”The current law as applied in Australia therefore treats these fishing people – by definition – as people smugglers,” the institute said.
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