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Submission to the National
Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention from
14 May 2002
The National Inquiry into
Children in Immigration Detention
Human Rights and Equal
GPO Box 5218 NSW 1042
We are writing a brief submission on behalf of the Catholic Migrant Centre
in relation to the above enquiry.
We refer to our telephone
conversation with [name removed] on 3 May 2002 from your office agreeing
to an extension of time to enable our agency to lodge its submission on
the adequacy and appropriateness of Australia’s treatment of child
asylum seekers and other children, who are, or have been held in immigration
It can be said with
great sadness that Australia has failed dismally in its role to protect
the rights of children and adults in detention despite the overriding
commitments required and agreed to by Australia as a signatory to the
various UN Conventions.
Daily media coverage
and reports by various professionals clearly articulate the inadequacies
and inappropriateness of mandatory detention and the long lasting, almost
irreversible effects upon the asylum seekers and in particular the children
in detention, yet nothing changes.
On 22 March 2002
the Bishops of the Catholic Church in Australia issued a media release
and lengthy statement on the plight of asylum seekers and refugees in
Australia. The Bishops state that such issues must be taken up with ….urgency,
justice and compassion”. In regard to “Detention of Asylum
Seekers” we share the same voice that “…mandatory
detention is itself a matter for concern…”.
pastoral care of asylum seekers convinces us that detention, beyond the
minimum time necessary for carrying out security and health checks, identity
checks … is deeply destructive of human dignity. This is particularly
true of children.” In this regard we are one voice.
We are a Catholic agency located in the Perth business district which
has assisted thousands of migrants and refugees for the past 50 years.
Last year alone, our agency which employs 12 staff assisted over 3 500
migrants and refugees from over 80 countries.
Our mission statement
is as a social service of the Catholic Archdiocese of Perth to assist
migrants and refugees with their migration, arrival, settlement and ongoing
needs, regardless of their race, creed or nationality in accordance with
the Church’s social teaching on migrants and refugees. It is based
on the words of Christ “I was a stranger and you made me welcome”.
The Bishops go onto
to say that “The Catholic Church in Australia, through the Catholic
Immigration Offices at national and state level… and many dioceses
and parishes, has taken and continues to take important initiatives to
help refugees and asylum seekers.”
In Western Australia
together with many other religious groups and Catholic Church organisations
we provide support to the many detainees (TPVs) once they are released
into the community with emergency relief, food, clothing and more recently
employment services. There are also religious orders who in addition provide
assistance, friendship, support and pastoral care.
In the two detention
Centres in WA we have been told stories by religious orders and those
who have visited of children being called by numbers, children having
limited schooling and learning opportunities, children showing visible
signs of being traumatised at having witnessed self harm by adults, children
developing behavioural problems, children not engaging in play, and appropriate
legal assistance and social support services being denied to unaccompanied
minors and adults. Yet the Minister of Immigration who is their legally
appointed guardian fails to protect these children. (TOR 3 &
In the Family Court
of Australia, the rights and interests of children are given paramount
consideration in family law proceedings. In recent years children are
even entitled to their own separate legal representation in circumstances
where the Court deems it appropriate, and paid for by Legal Aid. Yet in
detention centres the interests, legal rights and well being of these
children are totally ignored. (TOR 5)
We share the Bishops’
view that mandatory detention should only be for a period of assessment
and then the detainees should be released into the community. “After
a minimum time these people should be released into the community and
be obliged to contact the immigration authorities on a regular basis.”
of detention centres, the difficulty of access… uncertainty and
ignorance about the assessment process on the part of the people detained,
cause widespread and significant psychological damage.”
This has been well
documented as in recent times, we see time and time again medical professionals
speaking out about the post traumatic stress disorders being suffered
by these innocent people and in particular the children.
In accordance with
the Bishops Statement our agency supports that once the appropriate national
security and health checks have been carried out that these asylum seekers
be released into the community. It has been mooted by the legal profession
that in order to monitor these asylum seekers that they report regularly
to the police in a similar manner as to those charged under the criminal
justice system, with bail conditions attached. The bail system works well
within the justice system, so why cannot it be extended to include the
asylum seekers? Their whereabouts would be monitored in Australia at a
smaller cost to the Australian taxpayer and the overall health and well
being of the asylum seekers would not deteriorate at the alarming rates
as is happening in detention.
More trials like
the Housing Trial Project in Woomera should be introduced in the detention
centres at Hedland and Curtin which has benefited the families and the
children. (TOR 2)
TPVs who come to our agency are concerned not only about their families
back home but they also face so much uncertainty about their future. Many
ask ‘why are we being treated like criminals by Australia, what
is our crime?’ We came to Australia because it is a good country
and we want freedom. Why is this happening to us?’. The shame is
we have no answer. Many are in need of ongoing counselling, emotional
and financial support. What about the children??
We apologise for
the lateness of this submission however we look forward to being kept
advised of the outcome of this Enquiry.
M. DEL BORRELLO
Updated 14 July 2003.