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Asylum advocates welcome release of children -

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ELEANOR HALL: Refugee advocates have welcomed the Immigration Minister's decision to move 200 children from immigration detention near Hobart into the community.

The unaccompanied asylum seekers will be moved into group homes in the next fortnight, leaving 75 children at the Pontville centre.

But the local mayor, who says a new oval has just been built at the detention facility, is questioning the minister's motives.

As Felicity Ogilvie reports from Hobart.

FELICITY OGILVIE: Today there are 275 unaccompanied children being detained in a former army barracks near Hobart.

But in the next fortnight the Government plans to move 200 of those children into community detention.

Most of them will live in group homes on the mainland.

But for the first time some will stay in Tasmania and live in new group homes that are opening in Hobart.

Emily Conolon from the Tasmanian Asylum Seeker Support Group, says it's a great outcome for the children.

EMILY CONOLON: I think it is absolutely fantastic. I think it's the kind of leadership that we've needed to see on the issue of youth and detention for a long time now. And I applaud his move.

FELICITY OGILVIE: You run a visitor program of people who go to visit the boys. What difference do you think it will make for the children to be moved out of detention and into the community?

EMILY CONOLON: Look, we see a lot of boys in detention who are on the brink of despair. We see incidences of self harm and depression and I think for them to be moved out into the community is a really positive step, and I think that there are a lot of people who will welcome this move.

FELICITY OGILVIE: Sophie Peer from the child asylum advocate group Chilout is also pleased that the children at Pontville are being moved out of detention.

But Ms Peer says it's not acceptable that other unaccompanied children who are being held on Christmas Island will be sent offshore.

There are 62 unaccompanied children who've arrived since the Government changed its policy about settling refugees who arrive by boat in Australia. The youngest is 11.

SOPHIE PEER: Completely inappropriate to send any child to Nauru or Manus for detention and the idea of settlement, permanently, is also not a realistic one. Obviously there's already 12 children being sent to Nauru and we call for those children and their families to be brought back.

For any unaccompanied minors that the Government chooses to send offshore, we ask who is to be their guardian, who will take care of them and act in their best interest once they're offshore.

FELICITY OGILVIE: Back in Hobart the local Mayor, Tony Foster, says he's surprised at the timing of the announcement.

Mr Foster says a brand new soccer ground has just been built inside Pontville and is due to be officially opened this weekend.

But there won't be many boys left to play on the new oval when 200 teenagers are moved out of Pontville.

TONY FOSTER: Well, it certainly comes as a surprise at this point in time. I guess my question is, is it a politically motivated statement or is it fair dinkum genuine humanitarian care that the minister has made the statement for?

FELICITY OGILVIE: Emily Conolon from the Tasmanian Asylum Seeker Support Group is worried about the 75 boys who are being left in Pontville.

EMILY CONOLON: They'll be really questioning why me, and when so many other people got released and there's such a small number staying behind, I think it will be very stressful for the ones who stay behind. And I'd really encourage Tony Burke or whoever the immigration minister is after the next Federal Election, to continue looking into the possibility of homestay as another alternative.

FELICITY OGILVIE: The Immigration Minister Tony Burke has asked his department to investigate the option of placing children from Pontville into Tasmanian homes via the Australian Homestay Network, host family program.

TONY BURKE: My view on all of this has been that as soon as it's ready, I want it to happen. And if that means I have to follow caretaker conventions to make it happen, then I follow them. But there will be no political timetable that I would view as a valid reason to delay getting children into better care.

FELICITY OGILVIE: Is there any timeframe that you know, how long it will take to know if homestay's going to work or not?

TONY BURKE: When you're dealing with making sure that all the rules are in place for proper care of children, then the threshold is never a timeline. The threshold is making sure the quality of care's in place.

FELICITY OGILVIE: The Opposition's Immigration Spokesman Scott Morrison says if elected he will look at the homestay program.

ELEANOR HALL: Felicity Ogilvie in Hobart.