Unaccompanied teenage refugees could be at risk during holidays
"These children are here in this country alone" ... Teresa Gambaro.
TEENAGE refugees released into the community could spend this Christmas either homeless or ''couch surfing'' because of serious gaps in arrangements for their care.
Youth welfare groups and the opposition federal parliamentary secretary for citizenship and settlement, Teresa Gambaro, have warned that some of the teenagers, particularly those who have had to use Facebook and social media sites to find their own carers, could be at risk.
Ms Gambaro, who has put a string of questions on notice to the federal government about the teenagers and their care arrangements, said they remained unanswered after more than 60 days. ''This is a time of year when most Australians spend time with their families,'' she said. ''These children are here in this country alone. Where are they spending Christmas and what standard of care are they receiving?''
A spokesman for the Department of Immigration said there were 976 unaccompanied minors - teenagers who have been given visas to stay and have been released from detention into the community - in Australia.
They have mostly arrived on boats without parents or relatives and are then released after their refugee claims are accepted. They include orphans whose relatives and parents were lost at sea.
Some of them have been cared for in programs such as the Refugee Youth Support Program run by the Centre for Multicultural Youth which helps them settle into new homes with appropriate guardians or carers.
A report by the Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network has previously raised issues about the gaps in care and one of the key recommendations is for a national framework.
Carmel Guerra, the chief executive officer for the Centre for Multicultural Youth, said the Department of Immigration had been working on improving guardianship and carer issues.
But she said it was different from state to state and that is how some of the teenagers were falling between the gaps.
Ms Gambaro described as ''appalling'' the government's failure to provide any response at all to specific questions on the level of care being provided to them.
A spokeswoman for the Minister for Immigration, Chris Bowen, said the government was putting in significant effort to provide all responses as soon as possible.
''Such information requires substantial resources to collate,'' she said.