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Commission Website: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention


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Submission to the National

Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention from

the Lutheran Community Care,

South Australia






Lutheran Community

Care, South Australia is pleased to use the opportunity to make a submission

to the above Inquiry, based upon extensive experience and expertise in

working with families, including refugee families.

Lutheran Community

Care, South Australia is an agency of the Lutheran Church of Australia,

South Australia Northern Territory District. It works closely with its

counterparts in other parts of Australia.

In South Australia,

Lutheran Community Care has a strong background in working with children

with attachment disorders and lifelong allied issues. It assists the community

through a wide range of services including counselling, low-income support,

emergency relief provision and a refugee committee. It is located in a

socio-economic environment characterised by high unemployment, poverty,

diverse populations and a high incidence of refugee families. In preparing

this report, Lutheran Community Care consulted with Australian Lutheran

World Service and others who work closely with refugees and people who

have been released from detention centres, particularly the centre located

at Woomera.

This submission mainly

responds to the fourth Term of Reference - 'The impact of detention on

the well-being and healthy development of children, including their long-

term development'. This in turn relates to a Key Principle of the Convention

- 'the right to survival and development'. The relevant articles on the

Convention of the Rights of the Child (1989) include:

Article 3 -

best interests of the child

Article 22 - refugee children receive appropriate protection and humanitarian


Australia is the

only country in the western world to demand mandatory detention. This

is despite the fact that on a per capita basis it ranked 17th out of 21

industrialised countries in relation to the number of asylum applications

received during 1999. (1) Unfortunately discussion has focussed far more

on how to deflect the problem rather than acknowledging and addressing

the issues that lead to large movements of people in the first place.

Background Papers

Background Papers

developed to support the inquiry clearly set out the rights of all children,

as well as the responsibilities of the state to all children. Lutheran

Community Care understands that stated conventions, treaties, and domestic

interpretations of law, have all been ratified by the Australian Government.

Lutheran Community

Care support for refugees

Lutheran Community

Care supports refugee families in the immediate post-detention period.

Upon discharge from the Woomera Detention Centre, refugee families are

eligible to apply for one of twelve metropolitan South Australian Housing

Trust homes, nine of which are located in the immediate area. The agency

is therefore a 'first option' support base for many new arrivals, and

the following information provides the general circumstances under which

these families seek assistance.

Refugee families

accessing Housing Trust accommodation in the area are eligible for a maximum

of four weeks accommodation before being required to seek private rental

accommodation. They have already been assessed for financial support by

Centrelink, but are allocated only half the first fortnightly payment

in advance, with the balance being paid in arrears. Rental accounts for

much of this payment, leaving little for food or contingency plans for

sickness and other unexpected costs. These difficulties are further exacerbated

for families with several children and it becomes impossible for people

to exist without additional relief.

Another crucial difficulty

facing families with children is that children's family taxation payments

do not become available until Tax File Number allocation; a process taking

five to eight weeks. People using our service have little alternative

but to approach Lutheran Community Care or other agencies; yet this is

often done within a cultural context in which charity is eschewed due

to a strong belief in self-sufficiency. Possibilities for self- reliance

have already been disrupted during detention, but are continued rather

than resolved in the post-detention period.

We are aware that

in many of the cultural groups who use our services, the notion of shame

falls very strongly on the head of the male, who is perceived as the head

of the house. His inability to provide for his family is something that

reduces his self esteem, and his own sense of self worth.

The impact on

children of mandatory detention

Members of our staff

maintain that parents and their children visiting the agency after leaving

Detention Centres often have 'blank faces'. They are reluctant to talk

of their experiences within the Detention Centre. This is because they

are on temporary visas only, and believe that non-adherence to an agreement

of silence concerning their experiences will result in denial of the opportunity

to secure a permanent visa. They do not know whom they can trust, and

indeed the experiences that they have undergone make it increasingly difficult

for them to trust people. This fear is often exacerbated by the lack of

acceptance and racial vilification that they experience within the local

community. We are aware of families whose children have been engaged in

fights, their toys stolen and in one situation petrol was poured around

the back yard and dry wood piled against the front door. This does not

make it easy for people to feel accepted in the neighborhood!

The impact of detention

and post-detention re-settlement on children's long-term psycho-social

development cannot be underestimated.(2)The detention environment exposes

children to a range of negative experiences including episodes of self-harm,

forcible removal and a reduction in parental capability for nurturance.

The wide range of psychological disturbances often observed include nightmares

and night terrors, separation anxiety, disruptive conduct and impaired

cognitive development. More profound symptoms include psychological distress,

mutism and refusal to eat and drink.

These matters have

a profound impact on a crucial issue for all children, which is successful

primary attachment. This is severely challenged within the detention environment

when children can be used as 'pawns', or separated from other family members

in an effort to curb protests or hunger strikes. Familial relationships

are also often based on cultural and gender relationships in which it

is important for the husband to be the family provider. Personal and family

identity are defined accordingly. This can cause further tensions within

families who are already struggling to adapt to a new life. It is well

understood that family tensions have a traumatic affect on children's

psycho-social development.

The difficulties

for men in finding paid employment in the post-detention period serve

to perpetuate this problem. Further challenges include language barriers,

which cannot always be resolved due to the high cost of interpreting services.

Children are often placed in the situation of being required to act in

an age- inappropriate manner as spokesperson for the family. This in turn

serves to undermine the normal parental role. Parents are unable to shield

their children from the problematic nature of the communications they

often must interpret. This is against both child and parental best interests.

Agency case studies:

A local Lutheran

Pastor who is actively involved in the work of Lutheran Community Care

and the lives of refugees in the area, concurs with the view of agency

staff that a major impact on children within detention and in the post

detention period is the reduced capacity of men, and the stresses this

brings to their families including children. With rapid integration of

older children into Australian culture, the parental role is often further

challenged by intergenerational conflict. These stresses are exacerbated

by the personal histories of each family, which while unique, are often

representative of many other families.

For instance one

refugee family has four children, two of which have severe medical problems

and whose father is a survivor of torture. Another family has a child

with severe asthma forcing them to spend their limited Centrelink funds

on emergency taxi visits to the Children's Hospital. The pastor has also

accompanied a young refugee child to a local dentist as his teeth were

so severely damaged by the ravages of malnutrition that they needed immediate


Refugees on Temporary

Protection Visas leave the detention centre with very few possessions.

The need to fulfil the most basic needs serves to highlight just how difficult

it will be for some families to achieve the self-actualisation needed

to allow their children the standard of living adequate for sound physical,

mental, spiritual, moral and social development. (3) Yet these are underlying

principles of the Convention of the Rights of the Child (1989).

Barriers to assistance

While there are many

and varied issues to be faced by children and families, what has become

clear to this agency are the overriding barriers to addressing such issues

faced by refugee families. For some refugees there are major obstacles

to communication due to fear, defensiveness and lack of trust. These are

then compounded by language and cultural constraints. The extent of fearfulness

that these people are experiencing was brought home by the extreme reluctance

of members of the community to contribute to this report. We assured them

that names and identifying data would not be used. We also suggested that

the men with whom we were meeting could act as the mouthpiece, and that

they could relay the information to us. This also was not acceptable,

and the men concerned did not return phone calls or attend the next meeting

of the group. This may have been a coincidence or it may have been due

to their uncertainty and unwillingness to cause "trouble". We

are gravely concerned about the level of fear within this already traumatised


When this reality

is understood from the perspective of Lutheran Community Care representing

a microcosm of the broader society, the extent of the true social impact

of the following issues can be more fully understood.

For instance some

men who attend Lutheran Community Care seeking emergency assistance for

clothing and household goods find it culturally inappropriate to engage

with female staff and volunteers. This naturally leads to a reticence

among some volunteers, and a possible lack of empathy for the reality

of stressful lives. What staff and the wider community may fail to understand

is that the majority of refugees are appreciative of assistance received.

Many refugees are highly educated, well established, and of high standing

in their country of origin. Internal anger and frustration at the cumulative

losses now experienced may lead to anger being expressed outwardly. Resultant

misunderstandings may then mirror broader societal and political antipathy

towards refugees.

In recognising that

many refugees are reluctant to speak of their experiences, it can be argued

that a further barrier to communication arises from the very respect accorded

their need for privacy. Many refugees have histories of interrogation

and negative interactions with authority figures in their country of origin.

Within Australia further engagement is generally with mandated state authorities,

including Australian Correctional Management and Centrelink. Resultant

reticence is misunderstood by some agencies, which then may become reluctant

to intrude 'inappropriately' into the lives of refugees.

Also while it is

necessary to focus on the best interests of children and their longer-

term development, there are natural barriers to directly canvassing their

own views, as these can only be sought with parental permission. Yet it

is well understood among agency staff that children may already be engaged

in acting as interpreters and spokespersons for adults on a range of contentious

issues. Staff recognise that further age inappropriate interventions and

intrusion into children's lives should be avoided.

Understanding the

impact that detention and the immediate post-detention period has on the

longer- term development of children, it is important to recognise not

only the primary issues, but also barriers to the assistance needed for

adjusting to a new life in the community. The temporary nature of initial

accommodation may also serve to disrupt the difficult re-settlement process,

which is often already framed by the reality of financial hardship, and

a socio-political climate of antipathy.

Spiritual Needs

We would also like

to register our strong concerns about the lack of respect for people's

spiritual needs that is being shown. Lutheran Community Care is a church

based organisation. For us that means that our mission is determined by

our Christian orientation. Our freedom to put our Christian faith into

action in the work that we do is a great privilege, comfort and motivator

for many of us here.

In stark contrast

we see the apparent lack of consideration that is given to the religious

beliefs and spiritual needs of those who are in Detention Centres. We

are aware that there are sensitivities about the various religious groups

of people who are in detention. There are conflicting groups forced into

close proximity with each other that leads to tensions. People whose religion

requires them to be near water are being housed in the desert. Religious

tensions that may have caused people to flee in the first place are part

of everyday life in the detention centres.

We believe that we

have the right to practice our religion and that this is a basic human

right for all people - including those who have come to this place seeking

refuge. We are concerned that these factors will deter children from developing

faith and hope. Surely this does not bode well for their future.

Other information

We coordinate a group

of people from within the Lutheran Church who have an interest in working

with refugees. Part of our role is to encourage friendship and neighbourliness

between our people and new arrivals. Among this group there are several

people who have worked with children from detention centres. Their anecdotal

evidence highlight some of the concerns that we have raised above.

The teachers in the

group have taught children who have seen family members, friends and/or

neighbours tortured and killed. The children have suffered multiple losses

of people but also of all of the other components of their day to day

life style. The children distrust authorities. We know also from our experience

in working with children who have suffered multiple losses the effect

that attachment disorders can have on people throughout their life - the

inability to trust and to form intimate relationships; the reliance on

material things to meet needs.

We are aware that

families and children who come to Australia do so with certain expectations

- ie that things will be better. Their experiences on arrival do not fulfil

their expectations, and again they lose trust. For some, there has always

been the hope that things will get better. They arrive here and feel that

they have come to the end of the line. They can lose hope.

We also see the isolation

that people experience because of their lack of English language. It is

of concern that while families are in detention, it is not possible for

the adults to attend English language classes. The children do however

have some instruction, and therefore we find that we have reverted to

the situation where children are being used as interpreters for their

parents - not an ideal situation for any one. It is not appropriate that

children should have the knowledge or the power that this infers. They

can in effect run make decisions about their family members when they

are the ones with the language.

The issue of gender

equity is very significant for many of the people that we see here. We

are concerned that so much of what occurs here undermines the beliefs

and the culture of the people that we are seeing, where the role of men

and women is so vastly different to what is acceptable here. If change

in attitude is to happen, then there need to be positive experiences to

demonstrate why and how such change can and should occur.

This organisation

is not able to afford the high cost of using professional interpreters,

and so we need to rely on cheaper alternatives - using children, drawing

pictures, and frequent misunderstandings. We are concerned at the lack

of dignity that this can infer.

The Future

We are concerned

about the implications that the above information has for the future.

People who have come to this country with hope and optimism lose that

and they learn about hatred and vilification. What the Australian community

is saying penetrates into Detention Centres and is also experienced by

those who gain temporary protection visas.

Forgiveness and acceptance

are needed as are opportunities for healing. We have seen in our local

community here the damage and the racial vilification that refugee families

experience. Within this local community, although there are a significant

number of new arrivals and people with Temporary Protection Visas, there

is still an element of the community that is fearful and vindictive. We

work within our own sphere of influence to educate and dispel myths, but

the media has in the past provided only negative images.

We see families who

have come into our community, albeit on a temporary basis. They have so

many needs - physical, emotional, and social. Agencies such as this one

are challenged as we respond - there is no funding from the commonwealth

government for this work, and the state government has only limited resources.


In conclusion, we

have a number of recommendations.

1. That the Australian

Government explore other options than Detention Centres for housing

children and adults who come to this country seeking refuge.

2. That the religious

and cultural backgrounds of those coming for refuge are respected.

3. That there be

adequate funding made available to address the issues that children

face as a result of the torture and trauma that they have experienced

4. That the Commonwealth

Government make interpreters available without charge to agencies assisting


5. That funding

be made available to agencies to assist in the resettlement of people

who are released from Detention Centres.

6. That public

education is undertaken to redress the vilification and ignorance that

are rife within the community about people who come from Detention Centres.


Thank you for this

opportunity to contribute to the Inquiry. I would be happy to speak to

this submission should there be the opportunity to do so.

Colleen Fitzpatrick


Lutheran Community Care, South Australia

PO Box 288 KILBURN SA 5084

Phone 08 8269 9300


UNHCR The state of

the world's refugees: fifty years of humanitarian protection. New York,

Oxford University Press 2000

Steel S, Silove D,

'The mental health implications of detaining asylum seekers', Medical

Journal of Australia Vol 175 3-17 December 2001 p 599

Maslow A, Motivation

and Personality 1954

Draft report for

AMCO (the Association of Major Community Organisations) - condition of

children in detention at Woomera IRPC - unpublished paper April 2002


Updated 9 January 2003.