Education International
Education International

Treatment of asylum seeking students raises ire of Australian principal

published 11 February 2016 updated 19 February 2016

A Melbourne principal is prepared to risk the threat of jail by speaking out against the ongoing plight of his high school students who continue to live in an asylum seeker detention centre.

Despite a recent High Court ruling that declared Australia’s offshore processing of asylum seekers as lawful, high school principal Paul Dingle is publically airing his opposition to the system.

"It is about time that we showed a bit of compassion for these young people," principal Paul Dingle said.

After spending their days at school, the students are returned to a nearby detention centre. However, the students may soon be returned to the offshore immigration detention centre in the Republic of Nauru, a once Australia-administered island in the central Pacific Ocean. The tiny island nation is currently home to more than 600 detainees.

Throughout Australia, 91 children are being held in detention facilities on the Australian mainland, many vulnerable to transfer to Nauru; 329 children are in community detention on the Australian mainland; and 68 children are currently held in Australian–funded detention facilities in Nauru.

The Australian Education Union (AEU), Education International (EI)’s affiliate, has strongly opposed the detentions centres.

“Among the many serious issues raised is the lack of education for many of these children. Many have been denied education for months on end, or accompanied to school by guards,” said AEU President Correna Haythorpe in a statement released last year. “This is particularly serious because we know that education, conducted outside detention centres allowing children to engage with the community, is a protective factor against the long-term effects of detention.”

The issue of asylum seekers and refugees has long been a contentious issue in Australia. Today, with the conflicts in Syria and Iraq showing no end in sight, there is increasing pressure on Australia to take in more refugees.

Dingle is concerned that his students, who he says are happy at school and making friends, may be whisked away without notice, further disrupting their already traumatic young lives. However, he is walking a thin legal line by becoming vocal. The Border Force Act bars “entrusted persons” from disclosing details about detention centres.

Conditions at the Nauru facility have also drawn criticism due to reports of poor education facilities, bullying and sexual violence.