Tensions force Christmas Island school to segregate teen arrivals
Article from: The Australian
April 27, 2009
AN unprecedented number of asylum-seeker students enrolling at Christmas Island's only school has sparked tensions among the parents of local children and forced the principal to establish an offsite classroom to teach mostly male Afghan teenagers.
Principal Ian Francis has responded to the concerns of some parents, who were anxious that the Afghan youths were to learn English in classrooms alongside rooms for much younger children in Years 4 and 5. Older asylum-seeker students will now undertake lessons on the site of the island's old detention centre at Phosphate Hill, while younger asylum seekers, including a six-year-old boy, will remain at the school with almost 300 other children of residents.
Mr Francis said the behaviour of the asylum-seeker youths already at the school had been exemplary and they were well-liked, but the surge in boat arrivals and the mood of resident parents had forced him to find additional accommodation.
Some parents have questioned whether all of the adolescent asylum seekers are in fact minors, even though the Department of Immigration and Citizenship determines whether an asylum seeker is school-age as part of the initial health and identity checks.
“They are children, and children are entitled to go to school,” Mr Francis said. “We just don't want to create tension in a school where we have got older-looking kids with very young kids.”
Mr Francis, who worked with the department to establish the school's intensive language centre for asylum-seeker children, said he strongly believed the adolescent asylum seekers were benefiting from their lessons.
Their contact with teachers and excursions to learn about Australia's way of life were also important. “There have been some good moments – last year at the end of term, four of the Afghan boys left for the last time before they went to the mainland, and they were handpassing the footy to each other as they walked away,” he said.