Submission to the National
Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention from
ChilOut (Children Out of Immigration
Health of Children
Treatment of Pregnant Women and Mothers
and Social Development of Children
Places for Children
to Inappropriate Language and Behaviour
Relating to Young People
ChilOut was established
in July 2001 by a group of concerned parents and citizens who felt compelled
to advocate and act on behalf of children and their parents living in
Australia's immigration detention centres (IDC).
Australia has an obligation to protect its borders and to require asylum
seekers entering Australia to identify themselves and show prima face
case as to why they should be extended protection. We do not believe
that the sovereignty or protection of our borders is advanced by incarcerating
children indefinitely. We strongly advocate children seeking asylum
be placed in the community with their parents until their application
for protection is assessed.
Until such time as
community placement is incorporated into Government policy on the processing
of asylum seekers, ChilOut will also advocate for access to appropriate
services for children and their parents inside Australia's IDCs.
meet monthly with a guest speaker and panel to discuss and better understand
issues around the Australian government's current policy on refugees arriving
informally. Over the past six months attendance at meetings has averaged
approximately 200 people each month, many of them new attendees. Approximately
1400 ChilOut supporters and people interested in the work of ChilOut receive
our weekly email updates.
Many ChilOut supporters
visit detainees in Villawood Immigration Detention Centre (VDC) regularly,
often weekly. As a result, supporters, many of whom are themselves parents,
have developed a collective awareness and very deep understanding of the
personal reality of the lives of detainees and their families. As Australians
and as parents we take for granted the private time we are able to spend
with our children, uninhibited, or the knowledge that we can act effectively
on our child's behalf to access the services he or she needs. This feeling
of responsibility and self-determination in relation to the needs of our
children is one that parents in VDC and other IDCs never have the
opportunity to experience. It is demoralizing and frustrating for detainee
parents. Detainee children are not blind to the hopelessness their parents
suffer, and so in turn suffer with them. 
Given this, the content
of ChilOut's submission necessarily extends to parents' ability to parent,
care, protect and provide for their child. 
People arriving in
Australia without a valid visa and seeking asylum, are breaking Australian
border protection laws. The question is, do these laws supercede those
of Natural Justice and Australia's obligation to uphold the basic tenets
of human rights as set out by United Nations?  ChilOut
responds to this question with an unequivocal "No". ChilOut
believes that it is possible for Australia to assess people as genuine
asylum seekers and still allow sovereignty and humanitarianism to co-exist.
This is a truism because some nation states (e.g. Sweden) have chosen
policies that successfully incorporate both. Furthermore, without respect
for human life, suffering and dignity, sovereignty is meaningless.
The following submission
addresses those areas identified in the Inquiry's Terms of Reference where
ChilOut believes it is able to provide evidence to the Inquiry which will
assist the Commission to better understand the quality of life and experiences
of children living in Australia's IDCs. Evidence was collected primarily
from supporters' discussions with detainees and their own first hand observations
of children and their parents living in VDC  but also
where noted at Woomera IDC and Port Headland IDC. References to VDC are
the current arrangements for children as far as ChilOut members are aware
as at April 2002. Some arrangements for children in other IDCs might have
changed over time.
Some of the stories
seemed at first, even to ChilOut members, unbelievable. But ChilOut puts
faith in their truthfulness for two primary reasons. Firstly, members
have faith in the honesty of detainees, with whom they have spoken and
with many of whom members have developed long-standing friendships. Secondly,
stories from various IDCs, particularly since immigration detention has
been privately managed, of sub-standard conditions, a seemingly deliberate
policy of humiliating and demoralizing detainees and instances where detention
is clearly punitive, are repeated too often and are too similar in content
to be invented or coincidental isolated incidences. 
that the task of the Commission in collating a clear picture of conditions
within Australia's IDCs is hampered by a lack of transparency in the operations
of management. It is hoped this submission might lend
weight to the body of evidence that Australia's current policy in relation
to asylum seekers who enter Australia without a valid visa is punitive
in effect and is contrary to laws of Natural Justice, Australia's obligations
under various UN conventions and its own state, territory and Federal
child protection legislation.
ChilOut notes that
most of its practical efforts are targeted at VDC, precisely because it
is very accessible to its supporters in Sydney. As the most visited detention
centre, VDC has been made to be the 'showcase' detention centre by DIMIA.
Detainees consider themselves relatively better off at VDC when compared
to their compatriots at the other IDCs. For this reason detainees in VDC
are also more reluctant to participate in any actions that might risk
their being removed from VDC. This includes at times a reluctance to speak
freely and openly, to give details that might risk their 'case'. ChilOut
is aware that it is likely that those detainees most in need of help are
out of reach, located in remote IDCs and denied the visits and communications
available to detainees in VDC. ChilOut also notes that the increase in
visitor numbers at VDC in recent months (through the actions of ChilOut
and other groups/organisations, and more sympathetic media portrayal of
asylum seekers) has led to an improvement in the morale of detainees (this
is supported by direct feedback given to ChilOut by detainees).
Despite the relative
ease of access to detainees at VDC, the collection of information for
this submission was hampered by the overwhelming environment of security
and regulation that prevails within our detention centres. Visitors to
VDC are not allowed to take in dictaphones or other recording devices,
and obvious signs of note taking and /or interviewing taking place between
detainees and visitors can arouse suspicion and result in the intimidating
presence of Australian Correctional Management (ACM) guards.
ChilOut is of the
opinion that one of the most critical factors of all, in relation to the
treatment of children and adults in detention, is the essential conflict
that exists between service provision (i.e. care of detainees) and profit.
ACM, the private organisation that is contracted to manage Australia's
detention centres, answers primarily to its shareholders. This underlines
all of its activities and would appear to influence the type of care provided
to detainees. The most appropriate form of medical treatment or care is
often not provided if it is shown that less expensive alternatives exist.
There are many stories told by detainees, of nurses dispensing Panadol
for all sorts of ailments (serious and otherwise), and detainees being
told to drink more water for a similar range of ailments . 
Likewise it is apparent
that costly preventative medical tests and procedures are never performed
on detainees. ChilOut often receives requests from detainees for clothes
as those provided by ACM are only of the most basic type. ACM is eager
to accept offers of assistance from charities and organizations for clothing,
gifts, books, entertainment etc. for detainees as such donations essentially
help the 'bottom line' profitability of ACM. In ChilOut's opinion, it
is often only public pressure and the potential glare of publicity that
compels ACM to fully comply with their contractual duties to detainees.
ChilOut is very grateful
to have the opportunity to submit the following to the Inquiry. The stories
used as the basis of this submission are only some examples of the extraordinary
way Australia treats children and their parents arriving without visas.
This submission has been prepared on the understanding that the Commission
will receive many submissions from professionals and other non-government
and community groups.
ChilOut is also deeply
grateful for the Commission's commitment to confidentiality of names and
details of detainees. One of the difficulties ChilOut faced in preparing
this submission, however, is that there are a comparatively small number
of children and parents living at VDC. Even the most cursory reference
has the potential to reveal the identity of a detainee. The fear experienced
by detainees in relation to being identified as speaking out, except in
some extraordinary cases, is very strong. Consequently, in some of the
stories included in this submission, the real names of the detainee/s
in question has/have been changed (respecting their right for anonymity)
but further verification can be provided on request.
If the Commission
does require further details of cases documented below it should not hesitate
to contact Ms Junie Ong, ChilOut Co-ordinator on 0412 397788 or (02) 9365
2659 who will be able to provide further information.
Access to education
that is age appropriate and comprehensive is essential for the intellectual
and social development of a child. A significant proportion
of children in Australia's IDCs will eventually be integrated into the
Australian community. Of these, most will have spent between six and 36
months in detention.
Almost all will be
children for whom English is their second language. These children released
into the community will bear the scars from persecution and suffering
in their homeland, the often-hazardous journey to Australia and incarceration
once they arrive. It is crucial they be given the opportunity to achieve
the academic standards as children living in the community. It should
be noted that under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC),
Australia is obligated to provide education for children regardless of
refugee status and the likelihood of a child's application for refugee
status being accepted. 
at VDC of primary school age reported that they receive English, maths
and art lessons. When asked about other key learning areas of the primary
curriculum such as science, they answered in the negative. 
 No classes are offered in their culture or language.
 The importance of children being taught their first
language, particularly grammar, being crucial to them mastering a second
language, is well documented in educational literature.
For young people
of high school age, only English at a very basic level and art were offered.
The consequences for these young people in not having the opportunity
to achieve educational standards of peers living in community, place them
at even greater risk than younger children who might be able to "catch
up". If integrated into the community, young people will not only
be coping with years of missed educational opportunities but also with
the normal difficulties of adolescence, including social development and
exploring issues of sexuality and relationships.
Primary school children
reported some forms of assessment. Whether this is compatible with assessments
used by the departments of education in each state and territory was unable
to be established.
Ideally, if the
CRC was to be implemented, primary school children would be assessed by
the standardized testing available to other children in the state or territory
such as basic skills testing in NSW. For children recently arrived the
test might need to be modified. It or another comparable test would help
teachers direct the work of the children and be a way to verify that a
comprehensive education was being delivered to children living in IDCs.
One 16 year old girl
said that only English had been offered to her. She is articulate and
obviously very capable, but had been in detention for over 18 months with
no immediate hope of release.  She had hoped to
attend university, an unlikely outcome for her in later life due to the
limited access to education while at VDC. 
Education is not
compulsory for young people over the age of 15. A young man (17 years)
who has now been in various IDCs for two and a half years does not attend
the English classes available to him. He is angry and frustrated and one
gets the distinct impression that this is one of the few acts of resistance
available to him.
that effective learning for children cannot take place in an environment
where the majority of adults are severely depressed and on medication.
Children in IDCs do not live in an environment conducive to learning.
Rather the detention environment is characterised by lethargy and boredom,
depression, anger, conflict and violence. Children in detention lack the
strong family encouragement for education, and the active interest and
participation by parents that is essential if they are to progress.
Under the convention
young people over 16 years should have access to education or training
that prepares them for work. Particularly for those young people who will
eventually live in the Australian community, this is essential if they
are to become active and independent members of that community. For those
who will be repatriated, such training will enable them to return to their
own country or a third country better prepared for the hardships that
attend re/integration. By all accounts work based training is unavailable
for this group. 
An interstate supporter
reported that at another IDC a program was "established" through
which children incarcerated in the IDC were able to attend school in the
local community. However, parents reported being told by ACM staff that
if they allowed their children to attend school externally, the children
would be vilified because the Australian community was "racist"
and had been led to believe that most asylum seekers are "criminals".
As a result, parents, understandably, held their children back from attending
the program. This is just one of the many difficulties ACM, a private
company, seems to have in implementing government policy and programs
for asylum seekers. In this particular case the guards by their discouraging
remarks to the parents, failed to encourage/facilitate the parents' educational
ambitions for their children. They stymied a choice that would have not
only had educational benefits for the children but also allowed them to
escape the oppressive atmosphere of an IDC, experience something approaching
'normality' and engage with Australian children facilitating understanding
on both sides. 
have improved at VDC as increased attention has been given to the poor
level of services available to detainees. However resources are limited
in both English texts and culturally appropriate material. 
The simplest and
most cost effective remedy for most of these inadequacies in VDC's education
programs would be that children attend schools outside the IDC, as recommended
in the CRC. The NSW Teachers Federation also believes that "it is
essential that school age children be able to attend public schools in
the local area. For example, the Chester Hill Intensive English Centre
and Chester Hill High School are literally across the road from the (Villawood)
Detention Centre and there are a number of nearby primary schools. For
those at least 15 years old, one of the nearby TAFE Colleges may be more
appropriate."  However, to date such a program
has not been implemented for children at VDC.
Health of Children
Children at VDC who
have been visited in the recent past appear to be in reasonable physical
health. A nurse is available most days. All referrals to the visiting
doctor must be made through this nurse. Concerns have been raised by parents
who, having requested an appointment with the doctor to see their children,
have been screened out by the nurse. This is one of the many examples
of the difficulties faced by parents living in detention with their children.
As noted in the introduction most of these difficulties arise from the
disempowerment of parents and their inability to access the services they
believe their children need. 
In 2001, a 14month
old baby arrived at Woomera IDC weighing11 kg. Seven months later she
weighed 10 kg. Childcare professionals say the descriptions of the condition
of some of the children, even if they were not physically ill, can possibly
be ascribed to a condition known as "failure to thrive". 
This baby's 10 year old brother wets his bed four to five times a night.
He has dark rings round his eyes that one would not expect to see on a
normal healthy Australian child.
occur on a regular basis if more than the most basic of dental procedures
are required. The reason appears to be that ACM considers any other procedure
would be too costly. 
Treatment of Pregnant Women and Mothers
One of the greatest
concerns in relation to sub-standard physical health of parents and children
is the treatment of pregnant women in IDCs. Although the following relates
to women in VDC, the validity of these stories is strengthened by very
similar reports from other IDCs. The details of these examples are deeply
disturbing and again raise questions about the appropriateness of government
policy being "contracted out" to a private organisation, which
clearly has no commitment to appropriate training and awareness of cultural
sensitivities - indeed basic human emotional needs.
A lactating mother
asked if a ChilOut supporter could provide her with some food for her
baby. When asked why she reported that the evening meal was at 5pm and
breakfast was at 7am the next morning. A lactating mother needs to eat
regularly, every 2 to 3 hours during the day, in order to produce enough
milk for her baby and to satisfy the overwhelming hunger so many lactating
women experience. This mother had to resort to stealing food from the
dining room to take back to her room. This was an embarrassment to her,
and caused her some stress.
F and S arrived
in Australia at Ashmore reef in March, 2001, after fleeing persecution
in Iran. F, who had been constantly seasick and suffering abdominal
cramps throughout the five-day voyage, was eventually flown by helicopter
to hospital in Darwin. The couple were later transferred to VDC.
later, after a difficult pregnancy, F gave birth to a baby in a Sydney
hospital. Her husband was not permitted to be with her. F did not speak
English and no-one on the hospital staff spoke her language.
A suicidal young
mother too ill to care for her baby was left in VDC for nine days until
a top State psychiatrist demanded her release. F was rushed to Bankstown
Hospital in a serious condition after Dr Louise Newman examined her
late March, 2002. A prominent paediatric psychiatrist also examined
the baby on the same occasion. 
F's baby remained
behind razor wire, being cared for by her father S, and other detainees.
F was suffering from multiple infections including long-standing gynaecological
problems, dehydration, conjunctivitis, an abscess in one breast, and
severe post-natal depression, Dr Newman said. "F had been prescribed
excessive amounts of medication including sedatives, late last week,
which did not address her post-natal depression, while other conditions
worsened,' Dr Newman said. "She cannot care for her baby. She
is so depressed and weak, she has given up. She is suicidal. "The
stress of being in detention, where outbreaks of violence in a bleak
environment contribute to the stress load of being a first-time mother
in a strange land, is too much."
The baby is exposed
to chronic stress and shows early signs of emotional neglect.' Dr Newman
described the baby as having "hyper-vigilant eyes". F herself
said occasionally she was so sad she had forgotten where she had put
her baby down. The baby readily went to strangers and other detainees
and did not appear to seek her mother out in a group of people. The
baby readily accepted affection from other people and had no fear of
A prominent paediatrician
said F and the baby had not established a close bond, due the extraordinary
stress of detention.
On Monday March
17, F said she went to the Villawood medical centre to keep an appointment
with centre physician Dr Regina Greenwood. F says that despite having
a written appointment slip, she was told she did not have an appointment
and she would have to return on Wednesday. F refused to leave and insisted
she did have an appointment. She said a member of the medical staff
told her ``Well, you can wait here until Wednesday.' Humiliated, F
returned to her room in an agitated state and lashed out in anger, breaking
three windows. S said that night a member of the nursing staff had visited
them and had apologized for the abrupt way F had been treated.
S said his wife,
who had been sad and had cried easily for months, stopped eating and
drinking from March 17, accepting only a little tea daily and was constantly
in a very distressed state, crying continually and hyper-ventilating.
She was too weak to breast feed or care for the baby, he said. She stopped
wanting to care for the baby.
F said her weight,
which was 55kg when she arrived in Australia, almost eight months pregnant,
has dropped to 43kg.
S, repeatedly telephoned their supporters (in the outside community)
to ask for an ambulance to be sent to VIDC because they felt her condition
was so bad. Many supporters then lobbied ACM and DIMIA for action to
be taken on behalf of F. ChilOut supporters that visited F will testify
to her deteriorated condition at this time. As no action was taken by
ACM or DIMIA, ChilOut had to resort to legal intervention to get clearance
from DIMIA to enable an independent medical opinion on F's condition.
The ACM doctor refused to cooperate with the independent medical team.
ChilOut also believes that NSW Ambulance Service records from this time
would show that requests had been made by supporters of F for an ambulance
to take her to hospital. However it is understood that the ambulance
service could not respond because DIMIA/ACM had not authorised such
action to be taken.
Before Dr Newman
intervened, F was taken twice to the VDC medical clinic, once carried
in a chair by detainees because she was too weak to walk. Despite the
visits to the clinic, she did not improve.
A DIMIA spokesman
said F was not improving because "she refused to self-medicate".
However this is not unusual behavior in someone who is severely depressed
and suicidal, and no account seems to have been taken of her mental
state at the time. In an affidavit tendered to the Federal Court of
Australia last December, to appeal their asylum application rejection,
F told of her fears of trying to bring up her child in detention. "It
is dangerous in here. I have witnessed many times men fighting. [My
baby] saw this too. There is no escaping it," she said. "I
worry (the baby) will be damaged growing up behind bars. At night officers
bother us...they barge in, turn on the lights to see and count. They
are loud and verbally abusive...(the baby) has become a child that wakes
from the slightest sound."
F was also fearful
of the behaviour of other children in VDC who " are very aggressive
and hit and bite each other".
F remains in Hospital,
receiving psychiatric care. After weeks of separation, her baby has
been allowed to join her and the mother and baby's relationship is much
improved, the paediatric psychiatrist said.
Dr Newman said
F was only now receiving the treatment she deserved in the first place.
"She has a long road to recovery. Long-term psychiatric care looks
probable. "...Mandatory detention is state-sanctioned trauma. The
results are drastically obvious."
This story begs
the question: At what point in is the Australian community responsible
for detainees who are so severely damaged by their incarceration?
One of the most
extraordinary stories is that of [name deleted] a woman of Indian extraction
from Malaysia. She overstayed her visa and was detained at VDC. While
there, she fell in love with [name deleted], from [place deleted] She
married [him] and soon fell pregnant. Intelligent and articulate, [she]
expressed her concerns for her unborn child and what would happen to
her family. Authorities told her she would be allowed to have her child
Advanced in her
pregnancy at 8 months, [she] was shaken from her sleep at four in the
morning. Half asleep and confused, she was told she was being deported.
Late into her pregnancy, dishevelled, distressed, still in her nightdress
and shoeless, [she] was transported to the airport. 
There was no opportunity to farewell her equally distressed husband,
who was placed in Stage 1, considered the worst of the detainment areas
at VDC. 
breast-feeding mothers were observed, to be under particular pressure.
Apart from the difficulty in finding quiet, private places, they were
often suffering stress and showed signs of depression. Any woman who
has breast-fed understands the importance of being relaxed when breast
feeding.  They would also understand the hunger
that arises when breast-feeding. The unavailability of food between
meals and the prohibition of taking food from the dining room makes
this experience for women very difficult.
For new mothers,
detention is a particularly difficult environment. The lack of support,
feelings of self-doubt, frequently undiagnosed and untreated depression,
disempowerment, feelings of failure and uncertainty make normal bonds
of attachment between mother and child very difficult.
Further, the pressure
placed on the relationship between mother and father/ husband and wife
is severe. Fathers are powerless to access support and assistance for
their wives and children and experience very real feelings of worthlessness
Women with gynecological
problems are simply not treated unless their condition is obviously
life-threatening. Again, as with dental treatment, it is considered
and Social Development of Children
A day in life of
a detainee is very basic. They wake, eat, either attend limited education
available or simply "kill time". Many of the incidents which
provide some insight into issues of appropriate behaviour, social and
moral development occur during the ritual of meal times and around food,
the most basic of needs.
In detention children
are forced into an environment that does not cater for their needs. 
Because there are such significant gaps between meals, adults at one centre
asked if children could take food back to their huts. Guards would not
allow this because they said 'parents would only eat the food themselves'.
The result was that children took to "stealing" food from the
kitchen under their clothing. Children living outside IDCs usually graze
through the day. Children in detention either go hungry or use their own
initiative to access the sustenance they need.
A five year old child
was crying from hunger. His/her parents asked guards if they could have
some food for the child. They were refused. Later that night one of the
other detainees witnessed a female guard taking leftover pies from dinner
for a cat who lived at the Centre.
Many guards seem
unaware that as adults in charge of children they need to role-model appropriate
behaviour and language. It is a sad indictment of Australia's detention
policy that by all accounts the first English words children living in
detention learn are obscenities. This is because these are so commonly
used by guards in communicating with each other and with all detainees.
Ironically, at Port
Headland one observer (a detainee) witnessed a child asking for more food
who had not said "please". The guard's response was to shout,
using obscenities. On occasion, when children were given fruit, guards
would throw the fruit at them, as if the children were animals, rather
than hand it to them. On one occasion a guard threw an apple to an adult
detainee. The detainee threw it back again and a fight broke out. A group
of children witnessed this event and began throwing food at the guard.
When children do
want special foods and their parents are unable to access them for their
children, the children become distressed in a way that would seem completely
exaggerated to an outsider. They have so little ability to control any
part of their lives and their parents have little more.
The food on the whole
is of a poor quality and the types of food do not vary for adults and
children; it does not recognize their special dietary needs. 
In many centres,
particularly in the new arrivals areas at Woomera, Curtain and Port Headland,
there are no special places for children, away from adult conversation
and behaviours. 
Most children living
in detention are exposed to regular incidents of violence, abusive language,
all aspects of an adult world from which children living in the community
would be shielded. In many of the other IDCs fighting between ACM guards
and detainees and among detainees, suicide and accidents occur daily.
Apart from problems
to do with basic needs such as eating, children's moral and social development
is stunted by their severely limited lack of physical space. One of the
questions children in IDCs ask, which allows us to understand how life
inside VDC restricts their development is "What is behind the fence?"
Many guards do not
recognize the special needs of children in the way that they behave and
speak with children.  Children living in detention
are treated in the same way as adults. One example related to ChilOut
supporters was a small girl who was longingly watching an officer eat
an ice cream in front of her. The guard became angry that the child continued
to focus on his ice cream and told her to "Get lost". The child
began to sob.
A 23 page transcript
of an interview with a now released detainee describes how he witnessed
a burly guard kick a 4-year old toddler away from a fence when she was
playing too close to it .
to Inappropriate Language and Behaviour 
More serious allegations
concern children being exposed to inappropriate sexually explicit language
and behaviour. A five year old boy witnessed a male guard and a woman
(the observer was unsure as to whether this was another guard or detainee)
kissing and fondling. The child later asked another child to "Suck
my big penis".
that when guards were in full riot gear, their behaviour changes dramatically.
The language used during periods of unrest when riot gear is in use, is
particularly offensive. In one incident at Port Headland IDC, children
witnessed an aggressive interchange between guards and detainees where
the guards were overheard saying to detainees that they would " put
our batons up your ass". Children, six and seven, were later found
replicating the behaviour and language of the guards.
In another example
of inappropriate language, two children (aged six and seven) were observed
singing a take on the theme song to Titanic, to a female guard as she
walked past, "Every night I see you, I fuck you " Her response
to them was "Your dicks are too short for my pussy". When the
observer asked why she had spoken to the children in that way she replied
"I had so say something." This is a simple and yet so very poignant
example of the complete lack of understanding this guard had of the appropriate
way to interact with children. Another adult familiar with children might
have looked shocked, feigned offence and/or counseled them on the inappropriateness
of their language. Yet she chose to interact with them as if they were
part of her peer group. This seems to be a very common observation by
detainees in relation to the way in which most ACM staff interact with
children living in IDCs.
One of the children
at VDC, a young girl, suffers from constant nightmares. This experience
has been communicated to ChilOut members by a number of parents of children
living in detention. One young man, 17 years, who has been living in detention
for two years and eight months, was asked "What do you dream about?"
Until a year ago he said he was still dreaming of home. Since then all
of the dreams he remembers are set inside detention centres and are usually
centred on a plot involving conflict and violence.
One detainee told
of a story relayed to him by a detainee transferred from Port Headland,
about an Afghani woman who had been raped by a guard in front of her child.
ChilOut has no further detail on this incident. The detainee reporting
this story to the author of this submission is well known to ChilOut members
and would be considered by all accounts to be a deeply caring and honest
One of the most difficult
aspects of caring for children in detention for parents is that they are
constantly on tenterhooks about their applications for asylum and their
lack of ability to impact on the circumstances in which they and their
children find themselves. Parents in this environment sometimes struggle
not to extend the anger, frustration and shame they feel into their relationship
with their children.
In witnessing bashings
and violence by guards of detainees, parents are poorly equipped with
answers as to what crime the victim of this violence has committed.
and wide use of anti-depressants in IDCs is of particular concern. One
of the detainees reported that use of anti-depressants (including valium,
arapax, temazipan and Zoloft) extends to some parents. His observations
were that these medications are freely available, prescribed without counseling
or other ongoing support services and/or follow-up. Again, ChilOut has
no other information about this situation but feels it is an issue that
Relating to Young People
An area not specifically
covered in the briefing papers but one which arose out of general discussions
with detainees was of the opportunities for adolescents to explore in
any way their developing sexuality and relationships. By all accounts
this was simply not possible in an IDC environment. At VDC, young men
and women in the Centre are physically separated by fencing between blocks.
Apart from having a very limited peer group with which to socialize, private
space does not exist. Regular visitors to Villawood will attest that young
men, 15 to 17, seem particularly depressed, angry, sometimes very withdrawn.
Many will have regular thoughts of suicide. One of the possible reasons
for this is their inability to express their needs or have access to normal
social interactions and environment through which they can develop an
understanding and a sense of themselves as individuals.
Within the restricted
space of VDC there is a visible reminder to the children that their already
severely limited freedom might be taken away altogether. At VDC the romantically
named "Juliet Block" is feared by all of the children. It is
the area young people, mainly young men, are sent to for "time out".
This does not only include violence, but verbal abuse and assisting others
who you believe to be at risk due to action by guards. Children at VDC
largely felt that punishment by being isolated in this block is unjust
and disproportionate to their "crime".
The story of two
young brothers, 15 and 16 at the time shows clearly the inhumanity towards
children, young adults and parents. They went to the aid of a friend and
his father during an altercation with ACM guards. As a result they were
both jailed for 17 days, their parents for three months. The parents and
sons were transported to the various jails while the younger members of
the family, a sister 6 years and brother approximately 10 years at the
time were taken on a picnic. When the little ones returned, they were
joyous because they thought their parents and brothers had finally received
visas. They were soon told by another detainee about what had actually
occurred. The brothers were returned to the IDC only to be placed in an
isolation block for another 17 days by ACM guards before being reunited
with their siblings.
There are currently
no unaccompanied minors living at VDC. However ChilOut has taken a special
interest in this group. Unaccompanied minors are the most vulnerable people
living in detention, particularly in relation to their care and protection
and being able to access their legal rights as minors.
The Submission has
already outlined the difficulties faced by parents in accessing services
for their children, caring for them in an environment dominated by tension
and violence and the risks their children face each day. ChilOut is aware
that care and responsibility for unaccompanied children is sometimes taken
on by other adults or families living in the IDC, but to accept this as
sufficient presupposes that these guardians do or are able to fight for
the rights and needs of these children in the same way their parents might.
The following stories
illustrate clearly the vulnerability of these unaccompanied children.
A young girl with
her little brother are unaccompanied minors in Woomera IDC. For many weeks
after their arrival, the young girl would get dressed, dress her little
brother and they would sit outside waiting for immigration officials to
come and interview them so they would be released. No one ever came. They
were two of the unaccompanied children that just get "screened out"
because they do not know to invoke the magic words to seek asylum, they
just became invisible people. No one knows they are there or could be
there indefinitely. When a visiting lawyer reached out to this young girl,
she just melted into her arms sobbing that no one had held her in such
a long time.
The story below was
received from a supporter in Western Australia.
"I have been
supporting a 16 year old [words deleted] boy from Afghanistan who is
in detention at Port Headland detention centre. I am [words deleted]..
from Iran and a mental health worker and was asked to support him, as
he has been profoundly depressed and suicidal over the last few weeks.
He is unaccompanied, and was sent to Australia by his mother and uncle
to escape persecution from the Taliban. He arrived in a boat in [word
deleted] and has been in detention since then. His father was taken
by the Taliban two years ago and last that he knows he was in [word
deleted] prison, but it looks like that he is now dead. He has no contact
with any of his family. The red cross have told him that they can't
help him find his mother and younger brother who are in [words deleted] Afghanistan.
He believes that all his family are dead (as there was heavy bombing
in that region) and hence is extremely distressed and has become suicidal
seeing no point in living. Each time I speak to him he cries uncontrollably.
He also has developed a stutter (speech impediment) because the traumas
he has suffered and hence does not fit into the prison environment with
the other children. He has gone on a hunger strike since sat but has
contracted with me that he would not harm himself on great insistence
and pleading from me."
ChilOut has developed
the following recommendations based on evidence presented in its submission.
These are not in any way designed to preempt the findings and recommendations
of the Commission. Rather they are a reflection of ChilOut's understanding
of the major issues facing children and parents living in detention, with
suggested strategies to reduce the ultimately inhumane environment used
to detain asylum seekers in this Nation.
1.1 All children
(to 15 years) living in immigration detention should have access and
be strongly encouraged to take up free, comprehensive education in the
community. ACM, and State/Territory/Federal Governments should ensure
that children have all the necessary supports in place for this to be
a safe and positive experience. This includes resources in IDCs for
children to complete work away from the classroom. 
1.2 Children should
have access to English as a Second Language (ESL) teaching and resources
and classes in their own language.
1.3 Young people
over 15 years be offered education in a community setting and the support
they need to take up this opportunity.
1.4 Young people
should be offered vocational training in the community, for example
access to TAFE programs with the possibility of accessing higher education.
1.5 Library facilities
need to be comprehensive, including texts in the language groups of
children living in the IDC.
2. Physical Health
2.1 Parents should
be able to arrange appointments with visiting doctors directly.
2.2 If parents
believe their child requires specialist treatment, a doctor independent
of VDC management should attend.
2.3 Dental care
should be comprehensive, focused on prevention and all interventions
should be appropriate and aimed at children and young people retaining
2.4 Families should
be assigned a caseworker trained in supporting parents and their children,
and external to IDC management, who could monitor and advocate as appropriate
on behalf of the family.
3. The Treatment
of Pregnant Women and Mothers
3.1 All pregnant
women living in IDCs should have access to full antenatal care by a
trained midwife (or obstetrician if the pregnancy or birth are likely
to include complications) who visits the IDC if women are uncomfortable
traveling to the hospital. Ideally some effort would be made to establish
a relationship with midwives likely to attend the birth, especially
if a woman is in Australia without her partner.
3.2 If a woman's
partner is in Australia, in the community or in an IDC, he should attend
the antenatal session and birth with his wife/partner.
3.3 Women should
have a female interpreter available on-site during the entire labour
3.4 Women who are
pregnant or breast-feeding should have access to food between meals.
3.5 Women who are
pregnant or breast-feeding should have a diet developed in consultation
with health professionals to ensure that they are receiving necessary
levels of nutrition.
3.6 Babies and
their mothers should have access to baby health clinic services either
on site through a visiting program or in the community. Such a program
would assist in identifying any difficulties the mother might be having
with regard to her new role, her own health and mental health and would
ensure that the child is developing as it should.
3.7 Women should
have access to culturally appropriate care, including specialist care,
in relation to their gynecological health. They should have access to
and be encouraged to use these services. Women seeking these services
and refused by IDCs, should have the option of requesting an independent
assessment of their health needs.
4. Moral and Social
Development of Children
4.1 Children have
access to food between meals
4.2 Food for children
should meet all of their nutritional needs and be of a quality that
encourages healthy eating habits. It should be food children enjoy eating.
4.3 All IDC staff
receive training in dealing with children, including use of appropriate
behaviour and language
4.4 IDC staff involved
directly with children receive specialized training in the special needs
5. Safe Places
5.1 IDC staff should
be trained in and required to speak appropriately to children and their
parents, when children are present.
5.2 IDC Staff should
be trained in behaviours appropriate around children. They should be
required to adhere to these at all times and regardless of circumstances.
The well-being of children should be a priority.
5.3 IDC staff should
act professionally in front of children in relation to their relationships
with other staff members and/or detainees.
5.4 Children should
under no circumstances be exposed to incidents that involve full riot
gear worn by guards. Ideally they should be in a safe place at all times,
in which case exposure to violence will be minimized.
5.5 Children should
have access to counseling services. Referrals should be made by independent
doctors and/or social workers.
5.6 Children who
do witness acts of violence should have access to counseling services.
6.1 Parents should
have access to support services which assist them in parenting their
children, including counseling services.
6.2 Parents should
have all possible opportunities to make decisions about the care and
protection and needs of their children.
7 Young Adults
7.1 Young people
should have access to independent counseling services if and when they
7.2 Young people
should have opportunities to mix with other people their age in a safe
environment that is age appropriate.
7.3 Young people
should never be isolated in anyway from the family, friends and other
detainees. Isolation is not an appropriate form of punishment. Detention
is not intended to be punitive.
8.1 Special provisions
should be made for unaccompanied children to ensure that they have a
high level of care and protection and receive the level legal representation
to which they are entitled.
Article 3(1) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (hereafter CRC)
states that: "In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken
by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative
authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall
be a primary consideration". This "best interests" rule
means that children have a right to "grow up in a family environment,
in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding" (Preamble
to the CRC).
The CRC recognises that all actions concerning child asylum seekers must
respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents and families
to provide direction to a child in the exercise of her or his rights (Articles
5, 9 and 18 of the CRC). The CRC recognises the family as "the fundamental
group of society" and recognises children's rights in the context
of parental rights and duties. Furthermore, the UNHCR points out that
"the more trauma or stress the parents or care-taker has been subjected
to, the greater the danger that children risk neglect or abuse".
The same document cautions that care needs to be taken to ensure that
parents are able to nurture their child and that if the parent seems powerless
in detention, "then the child's greater developmental need is for
the parent to receive help" (UNHCR Guidelines on Protection and Care,
that have been ratified by Australia, such as the Convention on the Rights
of the Child, are binding on Australia in international law. Such treaties'
implementation in Australia are monitored by United Nations treaty bodies,
such as the Committee on the Rights of the Child or the Human Rights Committee.
However, the fact that Australia has ratified a treaty does not automatically
incorporate it into Australian domestic law. Only when treaty provisions
are incorporated into Australian law do they create enforceable rights
in Australia. However, courts should interpret a law to be consistent
with the provisions of a treaty that Australia has ratified. Other international
documents referred to in this submission such as United Nations Rules,
General Comments by treaty bodies, United Nations High Commissioner for
Refugees guidelines, United Nations General Assembly Declarations and
publications by United Nations agencies are not binding on Australia as
a matter of international law. They are, however, persuasive in interpreting
treaties and contain goals and aspirations reflecting globally accepted
standards of common decency.
submission is focused on children detained at VDC. By all accounts, VDC
seems to be Australia's least inhumane IDC environment. However ChilOut
members in contact with children and parents in other Australian IDCs
regularly email regarding their care and treatment. The stories have been
incorporated into this submission where appropriate and the relevant IDCs
speaking with former refugees in Australia's IDC or processing centres
as they were referred to prior to privatisation, there is a marked difference
in the treatment of asylum seekers. It would seem that previously the
focus was very much on processing. Since the Federal Government's current
policy's preoccupation with visible deterrence, the nature of treatment
of all detainees by IDC staff has changed.
lack of transparency in the management of IDCs is in contravention of
Article 3(3) of the CRC which states that: "Parties shall ensure
that the institutions, services and facilities responsible for the care
or protection of children shall conform with the standards established
by competent authorities, particularly in the areas of safety, health,
in the number and suitability of their staff, as well as competent supervision".
This article requires Australia to set standards and to ensure these standards
are met in all institutions, services and facilities through appropriate
monitoring (see also R. Hodgkin and P. Newell, 1998, Implementation Handbook
for the Convention on the Rights of the Child, United Nations Children's
Fund, New York, p45). ChilOut understands that Australia has already introduced
standards for its detention facilities in the form of Immigration Detention
Standards (IDS) outlined in the current (1998) contract and the new 2002
contract. However while DIMIA sometimes undertakes internal reviews of
the private contractor's implementation of these standards it is apparent
that DIMIA is not independent enough. IMIA would appear to have the same
interests as ACM (or whoever shall win the new tender) in minimizing complaints
about IDCs. There is no financial or other incentive to bring complaints
out into the open and no independent body to ensure they are remedied.
At present there is no independent body in Australia charged with monitoring
IDCs with the power to compel changes to detention practices where they
are warranted. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, the
Commonwealth Ombudsman as well as Parliamentary committees and Ministerial
advisory groups can inspect detention facilities with prior Ministerial
approval, but cannot compel changes to detention practices. They would
appear to be toothless, token watchdogs while DIMIA in contrast is judge
and jury in assessing its own performance and compelling itself to remedy
any breaches it might find of its own standards.
is depicted in one of the drawings by children at Woomera IDC (available
29(1) of the CRC opens by stating that "the education of the child
shall be directed" to the "development of the child's personality,
talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential".
The same article stipulates that child asylum seekers must attend primary
school. Primary education should include as a minimum literacy and numeracy
(CRC, General Comment 1, Para 9). In its General Comment on the aims of
education, the Committee on the Rights of the Child states that every
child has a right to an education "designed to provide the child
with life skills, to strengthen the child's capacity to enjoy the full
range of human rights and to promote a culture which is infused by appropriate
human rights values". In paragraph 2 it says, education must be "child-centred,
child-friendly and empowering".
CRC guarantees the right to education for all children in Australia regardless
of nationality or immigration status and regardless of how the child arrived
in the country. It provides that all asylum seeking children, even those
who have had their applications for refugee status rejected, are entitled
to similar education as other children in Australia. Accepting educational
standards for asylum seekers which are below that of Australian children
would seem to be discriminatory as outlined in the CRC, Concluding Observations
of the Committee on the Rights of the Child: Belgium, UN Doc RC/C/15/Add.38,
20 June 1995, Para 9. Also see Concluding Observations of the Committee
on the Rights of the Child: Denmark, UN Doc CRC/C/15/Add.33, 15 Feb 1995,
breaches Article 29 of the CRC, education must include literacy, numeracy,
and human rights, democracy and peace education especially for children
fleeing from conflict.
school children living in the community in NSW are taught seven key learning
areas: English, Maths, Personal Development and Health (including sport
and PE), Creative Arts (including drama), Human Society and Its Environment,
Science and Religious Education (scripture in public schools is not compulsory
but must be offered if teachers are available).
contravenes Article 30 of the CRC, and UNHCR Guidelines on Protection
and Care, Chs4 and 9, which maintain that at least part of the child asylum
seekers' education be in their mother tongue to preserve their cultural
young woman referred to here is an excellent example of the outcome of
Australia's detention policy. As a minor, she did not choose to come to
Australia and will now be returned to her country of origin, her chances
of rebuilding her life in that country are severely damaged by her limited
access to education during her time in Australia's IDCs. Not only does
Australia have a responsibility under various conventions to provide her
with appropriate access education, as a matter of conscious and of policy
which does not effectively make people who we return to their homelands
to become economic refugees and so continue the cycle.
contradicts Article 28 of the CRC which states that 'different forms of
secondary education' (including vocational education) must be available
and accessible to every child. It also contradicts Article 30 of the CRC,
and UNHCR Guidelines on Protection and Care, Chs4 and 9, which maintain
that at least part of the child asylum seekers' education be in their
mother tongue to preserve their cultural identity.
knowledge and skills relevant to economic opportunities should be provided
for older children" (Guidelines on Protection and Care, Ch 9). Certainly
higher education is not offered in any form. In not providing this training
Australia is in breach of the CRC. Article 28 (1)point (d) stipulates
that all signatory states will: "Make educational and vocational
information and guidance available and accessible to all children".
It also breaches article 6(2) of the International Covenant on Economic,
Social and Cultural Rights which states that signatories shall take steps
to "include technical and vocational guidance and training programs,
policies and techniques to achieve steady economic, social and cultural
development and full and productive employment under conditions safeguarding
fundamental political and economic freedoms to the individual".
Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, general comment 13,
Para 2 (6) (a).
41 of the United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived
of their Liberty provides: "Every detention facility should provide
access to a library that is adequately stocked with both instructional
and recreational books and periodicals suitable for the juveniles, who
should be encouraged and enabled to make full use of it." Furthermore,
under article 28(1)(a) of the CRC from the time of their arrival in Australia,
the child asylum seeker's primary education must be free, including the
provision of necessary books to participate in primary schooling. A similar
provision is also stipulated in the UNICEF Implementation Handbook, p387.
comm. Phil Bradley, Assistant General Secretary of the NSW Teachers Federation.
in footnote (1), the CRC repeatedly emphasises that States party to the
Convention, such as Australia, shall respect the responsibilities and
duties of parents. See for example Article 5 and Article 18, CRC. On the
particular matter of parents trying to access health care for their children,
IDC staff should be supporting parents in line with the General Comment
14 of the Committee On Economic, Social And Cultural Rights, Para 22 on
the need to "ensur[e] access to child-friendly information about
preventive and health-promoting behaviour and support to families and
communities in implementing these practices."
consensus on standard measurements of a child's health and nutritional
status is by assessing the individual child's growth against standard
weight-for-height, height-for-age and weight-for-age charts such as those
produced by the World Health Organisation, taking into account cultural
and geographic differences in child development. See World Health Organisation,
WHO Global Database on Child Growth and Malnutrition, http://www.who.int/nutgrowthdb/intro_text.htm,
8 August 2001
to Rule 49, United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived
of their Liberty, and Rule 22(3), Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment
of Prisoners, Australia should ensure that preventive and remedial dental
health care is available to all child asylum seekers reducing the need
many of the cases reported by ChilOut supporters, conditions that begin
as issues of physical health ultimately become ones of mental health in
the forms of depression, poor attachment by infants, reoccurring thoughts
of suicide etc.
is common practice to deport detainees in the early hours of the morning,
when other detainees are asleep and access to legal advice, support and
translation services is severely limited.
its haste to deport [the woman] the government appears to have contravened
most conventions covering pregnant women which stipulate that appropriate
measures must be taken to ensure their well being (including their emotional
well being) such as Article 24 (2)(d) of the CRC and Article 12 of the
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
On the importance of maintaining a pregnant woman's emotional well being
see UNHCR, Guidelines on Protection and Care, Ch4. For an Australian reference
see "The Health of Young Australians" report, endorsed by the
Australian Health Ministers Conference in 1995.
24 (2) (d) of the CRC enjoins Australia to provide appropriate post-natal
health care for mothers including support for breastfeeding. UNHCR Guidelines
on Protection and Care, Ch5 states that breastfeeding should be promoted
as "this method of nutrition provides complete, hygienic food for
the healthy growth and development of infants", and includes an obligation
to "promote the stimulation of lactation of mothers..." The
apparent lack of support in Australian IDCs for breastfeeding mothers
contravenes these guidelines. One breastfeeding mother approached visiting
ChilOut members requesting food because of her extreme hunger. ACM's prohibition
of food been taken from that IDC's dining area even for snacks in the
14 hour gap between dinner and breakfast would have contributed to this
woman experienced by this woman.
to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Guidelines
on Protection and Care, Ch 5 the cultural acceptability, palatability
and digestibility of the food provided to refugee children must be considered,
in addition to its nutritional quality.
to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Guidelines
on Protection and Care, CH 5 the cultural acceptability, palatability
and digestibility of the food provided to refugee children must be considered,
in addition to its nutritional quality.
37 of the CRC states that "every child deprived of liberty shall
be separated from adults" although of course still maintaining "contact
with his or her family..." While UNHCR Guidelines do not specify
that children and their families must be separated from single adult detainees
they do imply that they be free to remove themselves if they so wish.
For example the UNHCR Guidelines on Protection and Care, ch5 provide that
children and families must have sufficient space to allow them a minimum
degree of privacy in order to maintain some semblance of family life.
Detention facilities should be designed with a view to ensuring families'
and children's personal security. Also the lack of spaces specific to
children also contravenes Article 31(1) of the CRC that stipulates that
age-appropriate play and recreational spaces and activities be provided
appears to be very little direction given in international conventions
on appropriate training for staff guarding children in detention. This
may be because of the expectation that children will be kept in detention
as a last resort and for the shortest possible time (two expectations
that Australia clearly ignores). However it is clear from the evidence
presented in this submission that staff in Australian IDCs are woefully
ill-equipped to look after children. The alleged continuing degrading
treatment of children by IDC guards means that Australia fails to meet
minimum international standards on humane detention of children which
prohibit the ill-treatment of children. Article 37 of the CRC provides
that: " No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman
or degrading treatment or punishments" The prohibition of torture
or ill-treatment is also found in article 7 of the ICCPR and in articles
1 and 2 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or
Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). It contravenes repeated injunctions
to put child asylum seekers well being ahead of any other consideration
including the cost of training staff. The Committee on the Rights of the
Child, Guidelines for Periodic Reports, Para 35, stipulates that the "best
interests" of the child be put before "budgetary allocations".
The one place training is mentioned is in UNHCR guidelines on Unaccompanied
Children (Para 5.7) which state that the appointed guardian of unaccompanied
minors "should have the necessary expertise in the field of child-caring
so as to ensure that interests of the child are safeguarded...".
However as far as ChilOut is aware, the official guardian of unaccompanied
minors in Australian IDCs, the Minister for Immigration, lacks any formal
qualifications in the field of childcare.
Australia has decided to detain children, it is directly responsible under
Article 19(1) of the CRC to ensure that it takes "all appropriate
legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect
the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse,
neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including
sexual abuse". Article 34 of the Convention requires Australia to
"protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual
example it would not be appropriate for children to travel to school in
a vehicle with uniformed guards.
Updated 9 January 2003.