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Submission to National Inquiry
into Children in Immigration Detention from
The Association of Major Charitable
Organizations (SA) Inc
The Association of
Major Charitable Organisations welcomes the opportunity to provide a submission
to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission's National Inquiry
into Children in Immigration Detention.
AMCO is a coalition
of community service organizations in South Australia. AMCO has two broad
aims. It is committed to provide increased collaboration between community
service agencies in the planning and delivery of services. AMCO also aims
to provide a united voice on a variety of social and community issues
to the community and to government.
The members of AMCO
are Adelaide Central Mission, Baptist Community Services, St Vincent De
Paul, Centacare, Port Adelaide Central Mission, Mission Australia, Wesley
Uniting Mission, Lutheran Community Care, Anglicare, Red Cross and the
In the preparation
of this submission, AMCO has relied heavily upon the advice service providers
to asylum seekers in immigration detention. This submission will not consider
all the Terms of Reference. It will address some of the terms of reference
in passing and will address only numbers three and four in detail, which
are as follows:
3. The adequacy and
effectiveness of the policies, agreements, laws, rules and practices governing
children in immigration detention or child asylum seekers and refugees
residing in the community after a period of detention, with particular
- the conditions
under which children are detained:
- health including
mental health, development and disability;
- guardianship issues;
- security practises
4. The impact of
detention on the well-being and healthy development of children, including
their long term development.
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY OF RECOMMENDATIONS
AMCO recommends that:
1. Children not be
subject to mandatory detention, but housed in the community
2. The best interests
of the child, and the child's long term welfare be the prime consideration
in all decision making
3. Families not be
separated, but accommodated as a family unit in the community
4. the Federal Government
provide timely and appropriate services to asylum seekers awaiting processing
of visa applications equivalent to Australian community expectations for
Australian citizens. These services should refer to cultural and linguistic
need and should include, for example,
- medical care,
- mental health
5. that the Federal
Government uphold the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
(1990) and all other international treaties or agreements which apply
directly or indirectly to children and young people and refugees, including
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
- Convention on
the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women
- Convention on
the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
- Convention against
Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment
- Convention relating
to the Status of Refugees
6. the Federal Government
adopt the policy of the Labor Party that management of detention centres
return to public ownership and operation
7. that coverage
and assessment of asylum seekers be accurate
8. that the Federal
Government use inclusive language in describing refugees
9. that the Temporary
Protection Visa subclass 785 be abolished
Addressing the Terms of Reference
AMCO is concerned
that the special needs of children have not been considered in the development
of government policy in relation to asylum seekers. The UN Convention
on the Rights of the Child, to which Australia is a signatory, indicates
that a child seeking refugee status should receive appropriate protection
and humanitarian assistance. The special situation of children however,
has not been incorporated into Australia's legislation or policy in relation
to treatment of asylum seekers. Recent allegations of sexual misconduct
in detention highlight the need to adopt policies and practices that take
account of the specific needs of children.
AMCO is concerned
that the mandatory detention of all asylum seekers including children
is extremely detrimental to the health, well-being and long-term development
of children. The policies, agreements, laws, rules and practices governing
children in detention are inhumane and should be reformed for a number
of reasons. First, the detention environment is an inhospitable environment
in which to raise a child. The environment creates a general feeling of
depression, boredom and lack of motivation for both adults and children.
Second, children in detention do not have sufficient opportunities for
education, recreational activities and access to services to grow to function
as adults. Third, the detention environment is a significant deterrent
to children accessing what little opportunities and services are available
AMCO recommends that
children in the formative stages of their development should not be kept
in detention. The intentional policies of processing applicants as individuals
rather than as families and of long periods of detention have considerable
impact on families, including children. Removal of children from detention
often means the separation of women and children from their fathers. AMCO
recommends that families should be housed as a unit while their applications
are being processed: children should not be separated from their parents.
The primary evidence
for this submission has been gleaned from a series of interviews conducted
by service providers during visits to the Woomera Immigration Detention
Centre in January and February 2002. These interviews included a focus
on issues relating to children in detention. The service providers interviewed
a number of families with children. Interviews examined daily life in
detail and indicated that families shared common concerns about the general
environment in which their children were growing. The concerns that interviewees
raised reflect sustained criticism of conditions in immigration detention.
AMCO are concerned
that the conditions under which children are detained are extremely detrimental
to the children's physical, social psychological and spiritual health
and well being. The overwhelming statement made by children was their
sense of being imprisoned and craving freedom. Children and families routinely
reported the detention environment was uninhabitable, did not provide
adequate services and the environment made asylum seekers unable to access
what little services were provided. Children reported high levels of boredom,
depression and lack of motivation. Older children were not able to identify
any activity or improvement that would make life more bearable - they
simply wanted to be free.
The following section
will address the responses of categories of children in detail and provide
an assessment of service delivery to those categories.
AMCO is concerned
that the provision of schooling for refugee children does not meet Australia's
international obligations. International agreements, to which Australia
is a signatory, dictate that provision of schooling for asylum seeker
children should be of the same standard available to citizens of the host
country. AMCO recommends that the provision of schooling for asylum seeker
children be equivalent in quantity and quality to opportunities offered
to the children of Australian citizens.
1. Pre Schooling
There is a kindy
in the Main Compound open for free play between 10am- 12pm, and 2-5pm,
with a resident (detainee) school-teacher in charge of the kindy. In November
there is free access to for 1½ hours to toys, and in India, kinder
gym is being introduced. The latter two are recent initiatives.
2. Schooling pre-adolescent
AMCO welcomes the
introduction of offsite schooling for children in Woomera Detention Centre.
The provision of schooling, however, is not equivalent to that offered
to Australian citizens. Offsite schooling for children aged between 5-11
started in January 2002. Children aged 5-11 attend school in Woomera township
for three hours per day, four days per week. At 11 February 2002, 91 children
aged 5-11 were attending school. Prior to that date, schooling was extremely
limited and did not involve children attending offsite. Families interviewed
were very positive about this initiative in offsite education.
Schooling is carried
out by qualified teachers with the assistance of detainee teachers, who
receive some training. Teachers run three or four age specific classes
each half day. Tuition is focused on English as a Second Language, but
teachers provide some mathematics and Australian studies, and organised
play both indoors and outdoors. There are also fortnightly visits to the
swimming pool on Fridays. On alternate fortnights, another activity is
3. Schooling Adolescent
AMCO is greatly concerned
that there is no formal schooling available for teenagers. All adolescents
interviewed expressed extreme distress at not being able to access education
and activities. Teenagers interviewed by the legal team uniformly reported
high levels of boredom, depression and lack of motivation. Involvement
of adolescents in adult activities was rare. Adolescents expressed the
feeling that "there was nothing to do" and that this was of
significant concern to them. Some of them reported that when they first
came to Woomera Detention Centre they were keen to be involved in activities.
As time passed however and if their applications for temporary protection
were rejected, adolescents became too depressed to participate in education
or recreational activities.
AMCO is concerned
that low participation rates of adolescents in activities are directly
related to the management of the detention centre. Adolescent participation
rates in education services, structured recreation and informal recreation
are extremely low. Adolescents may access 2 ½ hours of ESL tuition
per day, four days per week, which includes one hour of computer time.
By April 2002, there were 31 male and 7 female adolescents in the camp,
with 17 computers available for their use for one hour per day. Adolescents
may also access programming available for adults (ESL and computer access).
Other activities for teenagers involve gardening, mural painting. Interviewees
attribute low attendance to depression amongst asylum seekers caused by
the environment and lack of motivation by Australasian Correctional Management
program organizers. The ACM activities officer acknowledges that apart
from the school, participation in activities is very low. She commented
that participation would be very high on intake, but would deteriorate
to very low levels, as a consequence of depression and the time taken
to process visas.
Women in immigration
detention do not have as many opportunities for recreation as men. Women
do not have access to the pool due to insensitivity to different cultural
approaches to gender issues by Australasian Correctional Management. Adolescents
are able to access fortnightly visits to the pool in Woomera, although
the females do not accompany males and will instead participate in activities
arranged for the housing project.
Adult asylum seekers
who speak English are generally critical of provision of education offered
to children and in particular, the opportunities English lessons available
for adults and adolescents and the standard of the lessons. They note
that the level of English comprehension is very low. They suggest that
education opportunities are not equivalent to the hours or standard that
the Australian community would expect for the children of Australian citizens.
Asylum seekers are concerned that they do not see their children progressing
in their education. We understand that following the fires, provision
of education services have been reduced.
4. Social and
AMCO is extremely
concerned that the detention environment strips asylum seeker children
of their ability to play. Although Australasian Correctional Management
report that children regularly participate in social and sporting activities,
most children interviewed do not refer to these activities at all, let
alone as significant activities. Many children do not comment on either
organised or impromptu sporting and social activity as a feature of their
day. Most adolescent children interviewed reported having no friends in
the camp, and having no social life. They reported spending day after
day doing nothing but moving from meal to meal, lying on their bunks,
an existence which is occasionally interrupted by English lessons.
AMCO is concerned
about the lack of regular, organised sporting opportunities and the impact
of the environment for the development of impromptu sporting activities.
Sporting matches are occasionally organized by management, but do not
form regular activity. Impromptu ball games are available at any time.
A soccer pitch and a volleyball pitch are currently under construction.
In the main compound there are two TV's with videos, in other compounds
there is a TV in each living unit and videos are available. The use of
these services is low.
Children in detention
suffer religious discrimination from other children, which is a replication
of the discrimination they faced in their home countries, which caused
their parents to flee. The exposure of children to the religious tensions
of their home countries has a significant detrimental impact on general
and religious development.
Many of the children
interviewed over this period were Sabian Mundaian and reported ongoing
discrimination in the centre from non-Sabian children. This was a significant
issue for all children of this faith. The co-location of Sabians and Muslims
in one hut caused significant distress.
6. Living conditions
Children in immigration
detention suffer the same privation as adults in daily matters such as
hygiene, food and facilities. AMCO is concerned that conditions in the
centre continue to be cramped, although less so than last year as the
numbers of asylum seekers in detention have dropped from about 900 to
about 300 when the interviews were conducted. The state of toilets and
showers and access to them is a common cause of complaint. There is no
7. Mental Health
AMCO is concerned
that the detention environment is not conducive to good mental health
in adults or children. Parents of pre adolescent children consistently
reported behaviour such as bed wetting, night terrors and crying. Most
adolescent children reported significant levels of depression. Many adolescents
report that they do not feel safe. Female adolescents from the Sabian
Mundaian religion report feeling afraid of sexual assault. Many adolescents
were concerned about the depression experienced by their whole family.
They expressed a sense of loss particularly regarding educational opportunities.
Adolescent children all feel a deep sense of injustice that they are imprisoned.
They expressed anger and resentment toward those who have been released,
such as the frequent plea: "Why are they free and I am in jail".
AMCO is concerned
that mental health services are insufficient to meet the needs of asylum
seekers in detention both adults and children and will not be successful
in the detention environment. Psychologists report that the mental health
issues that asylum seekers present are not the responsibility of the individual
concerned. They are related to the structural environment of detention
and are the responsibility of government. Counselling and access to a
psychologist is available in detention in Woomera by appointment. One
adolescent girl reported that she made an appointment to see the psychologist
at a point of crisis, but had to wait two weeks by which time she had
forgotten nature of the crisis.
The effect of recent
events (rioting, hunger strike, self harm) on children are traumatizing
in any context, let alone an already depressed environment. Last year
after the use of water cannons during riots, with many detainees observing
others being subdued by guards, all families subsequently interviewed
over several months reported that children started to suffer increased
night terrors, bed-wetting and other overt signs of distress.
8. Children with
AMCO joins National
Ethnic Disability Alliance in opposition to the detention of children
with a disability. As of the 5th of February there were 16 or (4.2 % )
of children with a disability residing in detention centres at Port Hedland
and Woomera. Types of disability include cerebral palsy, hearing impairment,
vision impairment, acute dwarfism, trauma, Perthes disease, cardiac, asthmatic
and genetic disabilities.
AMCO is extremely
distressed by independent evidence of the conditions of children in immigration
detention. The widespread despondency, depression, lack of motivation
and sense of loss of asylum seeker children is of great concern. The fact
that children feel that they are imprisoned, that they have no activities
with which to occupy themselves and that older children routinely spend
their day doing nothing at all is evidence that the Federal Government,
through its system of privately run immigration detention facilities,
has failed to provide for the lives of refugee children. In our opinion,
the Federal Government's defence that it provides sufficient services
for children in detention is a deceit.
The depressed behaviour
of asylum seekers in general and children in particular, is directly related
to the management of the centre and the general environment in detention.
Depression in detention is not an individual but a public responsibility.
AMCO is concerned about depression in all individuals at any life stage,
but particularly concerned for children who are in the formative stages
Asylum seeker children
should not be detained. Whilst significantly greater access to education,
activities, social opportunities, and the opportunity to engage in normal
family life is desperately needed, it is unlikely that increased services
to the standard found in the community can be provided in detention. The
detention environment prevents the successful delivery of services to
asylum seeker children. The only solution that meets Australia's international
obligations is that children should not be detained at all.
AMCO welcomes recent
increases in educational opportunities, particularly the practice of offsite
education for children aged 5-11. AMCO remains concerned however that
educational opportunities are not available to children of all age groups
and the provision of services is not equivalent to Australian community
expectations for Australian citizens. The quality and duration of education
is insufficient for the Australian government to meet its international
obligations and national objectives of harmonious community integration
Updated 9 January 2003.