here to return to the Submission Index
Submission to the National
Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention from
the Lutheran Community Care,
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.
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
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.
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.
Care support for refugees
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.