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Submission to National Inquiry
into Children in Immigration Detention from
from evidence given to Justice
Bhagawati, Special Envoy,
High Commission for Human Rights
Introduction: Effects of detention
on Detainees and the Learning Process.
As a former teacher
at the Woomera IRPC, I was able to witness at first hand, the conditions
of detention and the resulting outcomes for Asylum Seekers.
The detrimental emotional,
psychological and physical effects of detention on detainees, have already
been described, debated and published by credible members of the relevant
There have also been
numerous documentaries, newspaper articles, interviews [both TV and radio]
and letters from current and former detainees that have graphically described
their experiences both before, during and after detention.
From a teacher's
perspective, I found that the trauma, both past and present experienced
by the detainees and compounded by the conditions and treatment while
in detention, often resulted in severe depression, extreme anxiety, hopelessness
or dysfunctional behaviour, to name a few. Being in these states or witnessing
them on a daily basis was definitely not conducive to learning. Learners
require a suitable learning environment, both physically and mentally,
to achieve positive, lasting and productive learning outcomes.
Even if the human
and physical resources had been adequate to present a proper education
program to the detainees in Woomera, going to classes there was always
a haphazard affair, at best, a distraction from their daily trauma.
Proposals: Alternative Options
for a "Better Detention" fostering Optimum Learning Outcomes.
My proposals are
based on the understanding that Mandatory Detention will not be abolished
in the near future. The three following alternatives seek to provide a
more acceptable "detention" that fosters optimum learning outcomes
for detainees. The educational needs of the detainees would best be served
by appropriate resources and specially trained teachers, in an environment
and atmosphere conducive to learning.
Have a purpose built
school complex in the Centre staffed, resourced, organised and functioning
as close as possible to a "normal" school, incorporating the
specific and special needs of students. Language acquisition, cultural
studies and practical life-skills would form the basis of the education
program. Given the nature of learning in such an environment, subject
content and contextually relevant teaching becomes a crucial priority.
A basic "survival kit" for future Visa holders.
[This option was
once proposed at Woomera in early June 2001 but was never actioned]
Second Option: Transport Students
to Local Schools.
Transport all students
[children and adults] to attend the local school/s. This would necessitate
some major organisation and consultation with DETE, School Council/s,
Community and other stake-holders - but not an impossible task. Facilities
already available and staffing and resources could be allocated according
to student needs. Allows all students to be initiated into a formal schooling
process. Excellent learning opportunities for cross-cultural awareness.
[Some junior students
are already being bused to a previously closed school. Commendable attempt
to formalise teaching/learning, but the children are isolated from other
school children and associated interactions. No similar provision for
any adult student.]
Third Option: Woomera Township
as "Detention" Centre?
This proposal is,
I think, by far the best and would, I believe, have the most positive
and broadest learning outcomes for Asylum Seekers.
is in the unique position to "alleviate" most of the current
concerns and issues surrounding the mandatory detention of Asylum Seekers.
- Already has existing
housing and infrastructure. Federal property.
- Remote and secure:
Can be re-established as a restricted facility/zone.
- Asylum Seekers
allowed "freedom" with dignity.
- Cost effective
and cost cutting.
- Business and employment
- Immediate coordinated
and effective assistance towards assimilation.
- Education based
on needs. Theirs and ours.
- Better "detention"
- better outcomes.
Existing Facilities and Infrastructure.
As Woomera is already
"owned" by the Government and has the necessary infrastructure
to service approximately 7000 people, why not revert/convert Woomera township
and area to a restricted facility?
Personnel for any
current or future Woomera Rocket Range projects, could be rehoused in
purpose built accommodation in the IRPC, which has the infrastructure
to cater for 2000 people. They would be assured of privacy and security
close to their working environment.
could be encouraged to accept the proposals by sensitive consultation
and collaborative planning. Positive Government support would be essential.
This is not to suggest
that Woomera becomes the "detention capital" of Australia, but
given the small number of asylum seekers that come to Australia anyway,
one facility the size of Woomera would be enough to house them while they
go through all the initial clearance processing. Processing should be
of minimal duration, after which the detainees are released into the community.
If most of the funding that has been/will be allocated to other detention
services/measures both on and off-shore was to be concentrated in Woomera,
many of the current perceived "problems" could be alleviated.
Security: Restricted Facility/Zone.
and environs has previously been a restricted zone. The Rocket Range still
is. It is probable that the currently restricted area could be extended
and made secure. This would eliminate the need to detain Asylum Seekers
in a central facility, locked up in separate compounds, surrounded by
maximum security fencing, surmounted by razor wire. The organisation and
delivery of all security measures could be done by federal or state officers.
This would create an excellent PR opportunity, to introduce and familiarise
the prospective Visa holders to Australian law and law-enforcement. It
would also eliminate the need for the current Centre's correctional services
management, its ethos and practises.
"Freedom" with Dignity.
The detainees could
be accommodated in Woomera's currently empty houses and units, be given
a Government benefit and be assisted by appropriate personnel and professionals
to acquire the necessary life-skills, to become accustomed to life and
living in an Australian community. They could be given freedom of movement
within Woomera and the immediate surrounding area. The ability to be partially
self-determining and "free" would hopefully alleviate many of
the more debilitating mental, emotional and physical problems, thereby
allowing the detainees some time to recuperate and direct their energies
and thoughts towards education and learning life-skills, essential adjuncts
to assimilation. This effectively allows the Asylum Seekers to live and
adjust to the Australian way of life with privacy, dignity, autonomy and
purpose while their applications are being processed.
Cost Effective and Cost Cutting.
It could be envisaged
that, with immediate practical help and practice, the detainees could
become financially "self-supporting". That is, they learn to
budget and learn to live on their disposable income, as every other Australian
does. This scenario would be more cost effective and cheaper than the
current per person daily rate cost of detention. This has immediate and
future economic benefits. The money immediately flows into the township
and future Visa holders probably would become more financially astute.
Most importantly, financial acumen does not establish or encourage a reliance
or dependency on welfare.
Increased Business and Employment
Woomera could once
again become a viable township, providing employment and business opportunities
for many. As the current mainland detention centres and the off-shore
facilities are all indirectly foreign owned, Woomera would provide and
ensure direct economic benefit to the region. Detainees and service providers
alike would be injecting funds into the community, guaranteeing that the
economic bonus and profits stay in Woomera, hence South Australia, and
not go interstate, off-shore or overseas. An economic revival for the
region has to be considered as a positive and desirable achievement.
The more provisions
that can be made towards the "normal" education, assistance,
training and familiarising of Asylum Seekers with the Australian language,
culture and life-skills for integration and successful living, while they
are in "detention", the less likely they will have problems
adjusting and being accepted, when they are granted a Visa.
Education Based on Needs.
As the lack of English
is one of the major obstacles to the assimilation of Visa holders in our
society, early intervention and intensive language acquisition programs,
are crucial for the success of their survival and settlement in the community.
Having access to education on a regular basis in a formal setting, Woomera
Area School and TAFE Campus, would enable the proper delivery of programs
specifically designed and delivered to meet the needs of all the students,
children and adults alike. It would also foster an appreciation of our
education system, teaching and learning methodologies, schooling expectations
and provide the foundations for appropriate learning practices and behaviour.
An investment in education always provides dividends.
- Better Outcomes.
Given that it does
not appear that Mandatory Detention and the application and delivery of
that detention will change in the immediate future, I am proposing that
the third alternative "detention" option is the best under the
current policy. Not only does it remove Asylum Seekers from the punitive,
debilitating, dehumanising and demoralising incarceration that they are
currently subjected to, but more importantly, it also engenders an atmosphere
of understanding and acceptance, by both Asylum Seekers and Australians.
The fact is that
Asylum Seekers are here, now, and they will probably continue to come,
despite our worst efforts to dissuade them. Currently they are a "captive
" audience and every endeavour should be made to help them in every
possible way while they are being detained. Why further traumatise and
alienate these particularly vulnerable and helpless people when at least
85% of them will be granted a Visa? These are our possible future citizens.
It makes no sense. There has to be a better way!
Teacher: SA Reg. No. 584108
Updated 9 January 2003.