16 Jul 2013 07:54

MELBOURNE, July 16 (Bernama) -- Some teenage asylum seekers at the Pontville detention centre near Hobart in Tasmania have resorted to self harm, the national children's commissioner says.

Commissioner Megan Mitchell interviewed 200 unaccompanied minors aged 13-17 at the centre last month and has raised serious concerns about their mental health.

"They are very depressed and anxious and there are instances of self harm," she told ABC radio on Tuesday.

"It can range from cutting themselves to attempted suicide."

She called on the teenagers to be released into community detention.

Mitchell said that even light detention centres such as Pontville, where 250 boys are held, were deeply traumatising for children, whose human rights obligations were not being respected by Australian authorities.

"It saddens me to hear from these children and young people about their fear and uncertainty and distress at ongoing detention," she told a refugee conference in Sydney on Tuesday.

"As children they are developmentally and emotionally very vulnerable, and this is why the (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child stipulates that detention should be a last resort and for the shortest possible time.

"I find it misleading to call it an 'alternative place of detention', considering it is a secure facility surrounded by high external and internal fences from which the boys are not free to come and go."

Mitchell said some of the boys' chief concerns were to do with their length of detention, when they would be released into community detention and mental health issues," she said.

"A number had been in detention for more than six months. Those who had been there for prolonged periods presented with significant anxiety, depression and feelings of hopelessness,'' she said.

"They also raised concerns about the jail-like environment, difficulties at school, excursions, phones and clothing, among other things."