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Submission to the National Inquiry

into Children in Immigration Detention from


Dr Andrew Ford

National Inquiry

into Children in Immigration Detention: children’s right to profess and

practice religion freely

Rev Dr Andrew Ford

(Formerly of Broome Anglican Church, Broome WA)

Associate Minister

[address removed]

This is a brief submission

outlining some specific instances of infringements on the child’s rights

to profess and practice religion freely while being detained in the Curtin Immigration

Reception and Processing Centre, WA, between October 2001 and August 2002.

Many of the incidents which

I comment on here affected all the Christian within the Curtin IRPC, both adult

and children, but of special relevance to this report is the impact they have

on the freedom of the children to profess and practice the Christian faith in


1. Issues of reduced

access to Christian pastoral care and authorised church personal.

  • Permission for each

    visit to the Curtin IRPC had to be sought (in writing- usually FAX or email)

    prior to the visit.

  • Visits were not permitted

    during weekdays (see Appendix I). This severely restricted my access. Broome

    is approximately 200km from Curtin IRPC, which meant that I could not perform

    my duties in Broome on Sunday and also visit Curtin IRPC. This meant Saturday

    was the only possibility for the Christians to have formal Christian services.

  • On many occasions, subsequent

    to initial permission being granted for my visit, it was revoked without any

    real explanation, only a generic one (‘operational concerns’).

    This meant that for the Christian children would be expecting to go to a church

    meeting, and as late as the day before being told that it had been cancelled

    (often without any explanation).

  • The other implication

    of these unexpected.

  • When access was granted,

    the Christians within the centre were not allowed to meet as one group.

  • This meant only groups

    of 20 (and sometimes 25) were permitted at any one time. As a result the children

    of Christian parents who would come to these gathering were never present

    all together. This in conjunction with the short duration allowed by ACM to

    meet with each of these groups, meant that special teaching activities specifically

    for children were not able to be included.

  • This also reduced informal

    personal contact time where children were able to openly share there concerns

    and needs (spiritual, emotional, or physical) with me as there Christian minister.

    This would be a normal part of church life in the Australian Christian context.

  • This restricted meeting

    protocol was in sharp contrast to the more freely practice majority religion

    in the centre, who, although no special arrangements were made for them, were

    able to meet without special permission due to their numbers within the body

    of the camp.

  • It had been reported

    to me by Christian detainees, that on some occasions when they had previously

    tried to meet with the body of the centre, certain elements within detainee

    population would disrupt there meeting, with verbal abuse (religious vilification,

    and threats of violence to those attending) and sometimes actual physical

    violence (objects thrown into the meeting).

2. Issues concern lack

of adequate facility for Christian meetings.

  • For many months Christian

    meetings were only allowed in an outdoor are with little shade. Considering

    the climatic conditions at Curtin was less than satisfactory and meant in

    particular that children had to suffer very hot and often very humid conditions

    to come and participate in the church activities.

  • When a room was finally

    provided its unavailability (due a visit to the centre by ‘visitors

    from Canberra’ see Appendix II) was on one occasion used for the cancellation

    of the entire days meetings. This was despite the fact that we had for many

    months meet outside and were more than willing to do this again (even though

    it was no fully appropriate from a facility point of view).

3. Issues concern privacy

and disclosure of personal details of Christian children.

  • Both ACM and DIMA would

    often resort to the stringent privacy concerns to reduce any information being

    communicated between myself and detainees within the centre. These privacy

    provisions were violated however both implicitly and explicitly by ACM and


  • Meetings which I attended

    were not permitted in the body of the centre (for security reason, it was

    said), and detainees would have to be transferred within the centre to a reception

    area for the services.

  • Because only small groups

    were allowed to meet at any given time. Detainees would have been informed

    of the service times and arrangement by ACM. This on a number of occasions

    did not happen. As a result I would arrive (having driven from Broome- 200km)

    and detainees would be unaware of my visit and not assembled to be transferred

    to the meeting location.

  • To seek to rectify

    this lack of adequate communication by ACM to the Christian detainees, ACM

    took the extraordinary step of openly publishing (and posting on general notice

    boards within the centre) the names and ID numbers of each of the Christian

    detainees. This list was for the purpose of informing the Christians of when

    they were allowed to go to church on that given day. Other detainees removed

    this list almost immediately, and then detainees were harassed and threatened

    with this official recognition of their Christian status. Both within the

    centre by other detainees and also in the sending of this information back

    authorities in there country of origin. This list contained names of both

    adults and children who professed Christianity as there religion.

4. Issues concerning

religious practice within the centre.

  • The sacraments of Baptism

    and Holy Communion were severely restricted in the Curtin IRPC.

  • Although there is an

    official DIMA policy on the baptism of Christians (in my understanding to

    be done at the discretion of the authorised Christian minister). It was clearly

    articulated by a senior DIMA official within Curtin that I was not to baptise

    anyone until after their case had been heard and determined in the Federal

    court. The reason given for this was that DIMA were responsible to not influence

    this legal process by actions which happen whilst detainees were in the centre.

    This however contradicts other statements made to detainees and me that the

    baptism of a detainee would in no way affect their immigration case.

  • Although not all children

    would participate in Holy Communion, the practise of it by their parents and

    adolescence is important for their education and the life of the Christian

    community. Restrictions were placed on the practice of Holy Communion. Specifically

    the type of wine which was permitted at the centre.

5. Issues of inconsistency

across Australian detention centres.

  • Another issue of relevance

    to this report is the obvious inconsistency across the DIMA facilities and

    ACM run centres.

  • Inconsistencies in access

    to detainees by Christian ministers.

  • Inconsistencies in

    type frequency of Christina meetings.

  • Inconsistencies in

    attendance restriction and facilities provided

  • Inconsistencies in

    the all the above and the corresponding activity amongst the religious majority

    in Australian IRPCs.

Submitted in good faith that these recollections are a true and accurate record

of the issues outlined.

Rev Dr. Andrew

L. Ford

Appendix I: Restricted access

Dear Mr Ford

As stated in previous emails,

your visit is approved, provided that the visit takes place on a Saturday or

Sunday. The hours you would be able to enter the Centre to conduct the Services

are; 0800hrs to 1200hrs and,1400hrs until 1700hrs. The two hour break is to

facilitate the detainees and Staff lunch periods.

[name removed]

Operations Manager

Curtin IRPC

-----Original Message-----

From: Andrew Ford [address removed]

Sent: Thursday, 16 May 2002 7:18 PM

To: CIRPC Ops Support

Subject: RE: Christian services in CIRPC

Dear sir,

Thank you for reiterating

your earlier statement. Did you speak to [Department Manager] or an appropriate

DIMA officer about their previous agreement for such meetings? If so did they

indicate that you should refuse my request? If so are you telling me that they

have changed there earlier approval of this sort of Christian meeting occurring?

Or is this a decision made by ACM management at Curtin? As you will be aware

the right of religious groups to meet within our country is a right not a privilege

and is guaranteed under the constitution. By not allowing this right and lawful

meeting, are you claiming some higher authority over the rights of these detainees

under our constitution?

Be assured I will be pursuing

this with [Department Centre Manager] and DIMA.

Please inform what hours

I am allowed under your criteria to be in the centre visiting and conduct lawful

Christian worship service?

Your sincerely

Rev Dr. Andrew L Ford

-----Original Message-----

From: CIRPC Ops Support [address removed]

Sent: Thursday, 16 May 2002 3:28

To: Andrew Ford

Cc: [ACM Centre Manager]

Subject: RE: Christian services in CIRPC

Dear Mr Ford,

My statements in the earlier

e-mail are still valid. If you wish to meet with this number of persons on a

weekday, then I am sorry, but the visit cannot be approved.

[Name removed]

Operations Manager

Curtin IRPC

-----Original Message-----

From: Andrew Ford [address removed]

Sent: Thursday, 16 May 2002 3:19 PM

To: CIRPC Ops Support

Subject: Christian services in CIRPC

-----Original Message-----

From: CIRPC Ops Support [address removed]

Sent: Thursday, 16 May 2002 12:22

To: [address removed]

Cc: [ACM Centre Manager]

Subject: Requested Visit

Dear [ACM Operations Manager]

I have had this conversation

about holding services during the week already (with both ACM and DIMA), and

[Department Manager] the DIMA manager at the centre has assured me that this

timing will not be the problem, and should happen. Therefore I wish to meet

on the weekdays (as happens in other ACM run IRPCs in Australia). Smaller groups

will be possible, although group of 25, as we were having two months ago should

still be able to be catered for. This would mean 3 groups instead of four, and

being able to see all people in one day and before dinner (rather than being

in the centre and running services at night). The claim that detainees will

not come to morning services is without good reason I think, as they have in

the past (both during the week and on the weekend) attended morning services.

Please inform me ASAP of what arrangements you have made to allow me to come

on either Monday or Tuesday of next week. If this is an operational issue please

speak to the DIMA representative and have them confirm to me the reasons for

rejecting this request to come to the centre.

Your sincerely

Rev. Dr. Andrew

L. Ford

Dear Mr Ford,

[Name removed], the Curtin

IRPC Welfare Coordinator, has passed your letter on to me for approval. Whilst

the visit in principle, is approved, the visit cannot however take place during

the week.

A visit for this large number of

detainees would not be operationally possible and would be a major disruption

to the Centres normal routine.

I would suggest that you

rearrange your visit to occur on a Saturday or Sunday and it would also be advisable

to break the group up into smaller groups of 20 and conduct several sessions.

ACM will advise the detainees

that you are visiting and then it will be up to them if they wish to attend.

The majority of detainees do not rise in the mornings, so any visit before one

or two o'clock could be poorly attended.

Could you please advise

the following:

1. Which Saturday or Sunday

you wish to visit?

2. Times you wish to hold services? and,

3. Groupings (of no more than twenty) of detainees you wish to see.

Thank you for your interest,

[Name removed]

Operations Manager Curtin IRPC

Appendix II: Copy of one of the

cancellation notifications

-----Original Message-----

From: ACM staff member [address removed]

Sent: Thursday, 8 August 2002 1:35

To: [Andrew Ford]

Subject: Christian Worship Service

Dear Andrew

I have just been approached

by [name removed] from DIMIA and unfortunately she has just informed me that

this weekend the room that you hold the service will be used for a conference

with visitors from Canberra. So this weekend will have to be cancelled and rescheduled

for a later date.

Sorry for the inconvenience.

[ACM staff member]


Updated 30 June 2003.