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Commission Website: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention


here to return to the Submission Index

Submission to National Inquiry

into Children in Immigration Detention from

the Australian Church Women

Australia ratified

its commitment to the Convention of the Rights of the Child in 1989. Australia

has also committed itself to other human rights standards such as the

Refugee Convention. In order to fulfil these obligations and on pure humanitarian

grounds, it is imperative that children in detention are afforded these


Conclusion 44 of

the Annual International Protection Notes of the Refugee Convention states

that, 'in view of the hardship which it involves, detention should

normally be avoided', but it also recognises a country's right to

detain an asylum seeker temporarily in exceptional cases when detention

is required to:

a. verify identify

b. determine the elements on which the claim to protection is based

c. to deal with cases where travel and/or identification documents have

been destroyed in order to mislead authorities of the country where

asylum is claimed.

d. to protect national security and public order.

However detention

because of these reasons should not be automatic or prolonged, nor should

it be used as punishment.

Under the convention

of the Rights of the Child, children have the right 'not to be deprived

of their liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily, with detention only in conformity

with the law, as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate

period of time.'

Ideally, detention

camps should not be used for children at all, and should not be automatic

for adults, but rather only used as a last resort for the shortest period

possible. However, it is damaging for children to be separated from their

parents. Therefore detention camps should not be used for children or

their parents.

If camps are deemed

necessary for initial processing of refugees, their whole nature needs

to change. In fact, they should be processing centres, rather than detention

centres. They should not be located in remote places but should be near

urban centres, so that the full range of services and agencies can be

utilised to provide the help and assistance needed to meet all the rights

of children. This also means that they need to be much more open so that

a helpful environment is created.

Children and their

parents need to be in a separate area of the centre than other adults.

This will assist normal family life. Unaccompanied children also need

to be in a separate area with foster parents of their own nationality

to care for them.

The atmosphere should

be one of support, respect and understanding rather than punishment and

imprisonment, with emphasis on speedy processing of health, security and

identity checks, and initial lodgement of claims, then release into the

community with ongoing support from appropriate agencies.

The processing of

claims should be handled sensitively. Unaccompanied children should have

an adult with them to support them at interviews, and an interpreter if

required. In family units, older children should be able to sit in on

interviews with parents. Here again, interpreters should be provided.

Refugees should see the same interviewers at ongoing interviews and should

be kept informed of the progress of claims at regular intervals.

Health and Nutrition

Health screening should be thorough so that appropriate treatment can

be provided. This should include adequate medical, dental, infant health

and specialist services as required. Women and girls should be able to

see a female doctor if they desire and appropriate services should be

available for pregnant women. Good health services should also be available

on release into the community. A plentiful variety of good nutritious

food should be available, including foods peculiar to the culture to which

children belong.


and Social Well-being

For past trauma and development of harm to children to be detected and

treated in detention and on release into the community, appropriate specialised

services need to be available. It is very difficult and highly costly

to provide these if detention centres are in isolated areas. If detention

centres are in urban areas, specialist services can be brought in, or

children and families can be taken to the service.

If detention centres

are run as prisons, children are exposed to more trauma, thus making it

well nigh impossible to treat previous trauma until such time as children

are able to live in a normal loving environment. Thus children and their

parents, and unaccompanied children should be released into the community

very quickly and appropriate specialist, psychological and trauma counselling

services should be provided.

Children and their

parents should be in a separate area of the camp, as should unaccompanied

children who should have foster parents of their own nationality to care

for them. This would help protect children from harm. The child's family

is of paramount importance to the child's well being. Every effort should

be made to provide as normal an environment as possible, to address parent's

concerns for their children and to provide a range of activities, both

within and outside the camps (e.g. picnics, outings, meeting with people

from the community), that allow children to play, to relax and meets their

needs for stimulation and growth and to learn something of the country

to which they


Effective education will be easier to implement if all detention centres

are near urban areas. This will enable educational services to be brought

into detention centres, both in teaching of English language and in their

own language. It also allows for children to be taken to schools in the

local community once they have sufficient English. This makes for a more

normal environment and allows them to mix with Australian children, to

learn about Australia and to have some understanding of Australia on release

from detention.


Ways in which children's cultural and religious values can be supported

in the detention environment include:

  • celebration of

    their traditional cultural days

  • affirmation of

    their religious beliefs and the opportunity to protect them

  • allowing them,

    if they wish, to explore Christianity and Australian ways and customs

It is important that

children be able to maintain their own language. Teaching in this area

and celebration of their own customs will help in this process.

Legal Issues

Children over 10 should always be involved with parents in legal interviews

so they know what is going on. Unaccompanied children should have the

same adult (maybe foster parent) with them at each interview. In all cases

children should have the same interviewer on each occasion they are interviewed.

Interpreters should be provided and clear explanations given so that children

understand the process. Regular updates should be provided of the progress

of applications for asylum.

The Legal and

Administrative Framework

Current laws, policies and practices need to be looked at carefully so

that the processing of visa determinations is fair and speedy and applicants

are fully informed of their progress.

Temporary visas should

be of shorter duration and quickly replaced by permanent visas so that

refugees can cease existing in limbo and become part of the Australian

community and have the opportunity to apply for immediate family members

to join them.

Detention centres

should be far more open. There should be co-operation between State and

Federal Governments and the operators of detention centres so that appropriate

services can be brought into the camps, (eg health, education, social,

welfare, recreational, cultural and religious), to meet the needs of children

and to provide a more open and normal environment where two-way communication

is encouraged.

Independent monitoring

of the operation of detention centres and of the treatment of children

in those centres should be mandatory. Services that already exist, such

as the role of the Western Australian Inspector of Custodial Services,

should be utilised to carry out independent monitoring of the detention


A service with expertise

in the case of children could provide monitoring of services to children.


Updated 9 January 2003.