here to return to the Submission Index
Submission to National Inquiry
into Children in Immigration Detention from
the Australian Church Women
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.
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.'
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.