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Submission to the National

Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention from


Migrant Centre

14 May 2002

The National Inquiry into

Children in Immigration Detention

Human Rights and Equal

Opportunity Commission

GPO Box 5218 NSW 1042

Dear Sir

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…”.

The Church’s

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.

Our agency:

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.”

“The isolation

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.
(TOR 2)

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)

Many traumatised

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.

Yours faithfully




Updated 14 July 2003.