This statement was provided by Harold Bilboe to the National Inquiry
into Children in Immigration Detention
I, Harold Bilboe,
of [address removed], Psychologist, do solemnly and sincerely declare
1. I make this
statement for the purposes of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity
Commission's Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention.
2. I am a qualified
psychologist, holding a BA (Psychology), Grad Dip (Psychology), Grad
Dip (Clinical Hypnosis), and Masters in Psychology.
3. I was employed
by Australasian Correctional Management (ACM) at the Woomera Immigration
Reception and Processing Centre (WIRPC) as a Psychologist from approximately
October 2000 until December 2001 on a contractual basis. There were
some times during this period that I was not working, but the total
period for which I was working at the WIRPC during this period was
approximately 14 months.
4. I was also
employed from 9 January 2002 to 5 February 2002 at the Curtin Immigration
Reception and Processing Centre (CIRPC) as a Psychologist.
5. At the expiry
of my contract at the CIRPC despite several expressions of interest
on my part, I was not offered a new contract. I have no ongoing relationship
with ACM or legal claim against them.
6. Within a month
of my having ceased employment with ACM, the 3 remaining long-term
members of the mental health team also left employment at WIRPC. The
contracts of the members of the team were not renewed. I was of the
view that the reason that ACM did not offer to renew the contracts
of myself, and others in the team was that we had increasingly begun
to complain about the poor psychological condition of detainees, particularly
children, and their treatment in detention at the WIRPC.
7. I am currently
employed as psychologist with NSW Corrective Services at the Mannus
Correctional Centre. I have been employed there since May 2002.
8. I have extensive
experience in working with children. In particular, I was employed
for 9 years in the area of child protection with the NSW Child and
Family Services (now DOCS). Prior to that worked at Port Kembla (Lysaghts
Employee Credit Union) as a financial counsellor and also worked (voluntarily)
as a youth worker and advocate with Wollongong City Council. While
in Wollongong I established the first youth refuge in NSW and was
given the Wollongong Citizen of the Year Award in 1984 for services
to the community in connection with youth work and working with refugees.
Work at the
9. I was, to
my knowledge, the first psychologist employed at the WIRPC. When I
arrived there were no policies, procedures or guidelines for the provision
of psychological services.
10. I would have
expected to receive a full set of policies and procedures covering
the provisions of psychological services and a full set of psychometric
tools to deal with the range of clinical assessments likely to be
relevant in that environment. These were things that a normal service
would have on hand but none of them had been purchased. I put in submissions
and requests and no response was received.
11. This meant
that clinical assessments had to be made on the basis of my own clinical
experience, rather than with the use of proper psychometric assessment.
Children presented daily with symptoms of trauma and required clinical
assessment. While I was often able to make appropriate assessments
on this basis, this would have been more difficult for people with
limited experience, and was not optimal. It is not how I would have
expected to operate in, for example, a correctional environment.
12. I was employed
on 80-hour fortnight but worked on average 140 hours. I was never
paid overtime, nor was I able to take time in lieu. I was, in fact,
criticised for working excessive hours and contracts were financially
reduced along with conditions. However, even in the extended hours
I worked, I was simply not able to attend to the needs of all the
13. Later in
my time at the WIRPC almost all of my work hours were taken up with
dealing with people who had self-harmed, which left no time for treating
other people who required counselling.
I didn't have an office. I shared an administration desk. I interviewed
people in the open, under trees and sat on steps and begged and borrowed
office space from time to time. The first and only individual office
consisted of a three metre by three metre demountable site office.
This was referred to by officers as "Harold's box". An office
was made available 4 months before I finished in the old medical centre.
However, we were required to share the building with the education
unit and this was unsatisfactory as confidentiality was compromised
- people could see who was coming and going and the walls were so
thin that people could hear what was being said in other rooms.
at the WIRPC
15. There was
a high level of traumatisation with features of acute anxiety and
depression amongst children at the WIRPC. There were high levels of
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) apparent amongst children detainees
(as well as adults).
16. While some
detainees, including children, experienced trauma before they were
held in the detention environment, the detention environment at the
WIRPC was in itself traumatising. This trauma came primarily from:
- Exposure to
the violence committed on others and the self-harm of others;
- Being subjected
of physical environment;
as to length of detention and outcome; and
by the government.
17. The main
stumbling block for any therapy for detainees was the inability to
change the abusive environment in which they were being held. Even
if you could identify the problem and provide counselling or medication,
you could not change their situation which was the basic cause of
18. It was, and
remains, my view that had the conditions that existed in the WIRPC
for children existed in the general community, the children would
have been removed from that environment. Children were both being
abused and likely to be abused in the WIRPC - emotionally, psychologically
and physically. This was known to both ACM and DIMIA.
were significantly traumatised by the exposure to violence in a number
of forms at the WIRPC. These were factors outside their control. It
was impossible to shield children from these influences because of
the nature of environment at the WIRPC. There was simply nowhere for
children to be moved.
witnessed repeated acts of self-harm by adult detainees (such as cutting
themselves with razor blades and lip-stitching), hunger strikes, numerous
attempted suicides by hanging, disruptive and abusive behaviour, mass
demonstrations, destruction of property, riots, use of batons, shields
and tear gas by ACM officers and use of water cannons on detainees.
saw the destruction of the areas in which they played and undertook
activities, such as the education facilities. The loss of their areas
and things in them such as their artworks caused them distress.
were also subjected to personal violence during disturbances. I saw
tear gas used 2-3 times on groups that included children. I also saw
a water cannon used 4-5 times on groups involving children during
demonstrations. On one occasion when there was a riot in 2001, a water
cannon drove through a fence while women and children were present.
23. I also saw
adolescent children cuffed behind their backs and carried by their
elbows on a number of occasions. I saw this once during a major demonstration
and during other minor demonstrations. Detainees were cuffed behind
their backs. This is a practice that is not used in other correctional
centres. Children were released from the handcuffs once it was determined
that they were children, but the marks from the cuffs were still visible
on their wrists. Plastic flexicuffs were used.
24. There were
numerous effects of these experiences on children. These included
withdrawal, nightmares, bedwetting, serious sleep disturbance and
loss of appetite.
25. As time progressed,
incidents of self-harm amongst children increased. The response to
the high levels of trauma to which children were exposed changed from
being withdrawn to self-harm. By the time I left, self-harm was almost
universal amongst unaccompanied minors (UAMs). Amongst those children
in detention with their parents, the main problem was loss of appetite
or a refusal to eat.
26. There was
no evidence at all that children were being starved by their parents.
Parents may not have been going to meals because of loss of appetite
or because they were bedridden with depression, but children would
be taken to meals by others where possible.
27. Amongst the
self-harm that occurred while I was at the WIRPC, there was lip stitching
amongst adolescents. There was no evidence of which I was aware to
suggest the involvement of parents or adults in the stitching of children's
lips. The only time I heard of these allegations of the involvement
of adults in stitching the lips of children was from the Minister
28. The violent
incidents to which children were exposed increased exponentially the
longer people were in detention. With longer periods of detention
came increased desperation and increased violent and inappropriate
behaviour by detainees.
at the WIRPC was also inadequate and inappropriate for children. While
I was employed at the WIRPC, children and families were kept in compounds
with large numbers of single adult males with no effective supervision.
This exposed children to an unacceptably high risk of sexual and physical
30. There were
a number of occasions on which families were moved into Sierra compound
where high risk and disruptive detainees were kept, when their cases
had been rejected on appeal. This was a completely inappropriate environment
for women and children. I recall one family in particular that had
3 girls and they could not leave their room while they were there.
31. The programme
under which women and children were allowed to live in designated
houses in the Woomera town was extremely selective and was only available
at a primary visa stage. It therefore seemed to be stepping-stone
to getting visa rather than a programme designed to help women and
children. Children at risk were not moved there, despite recommendations
from the psychological team.
conditions at the WIRPC
32. There was
no grass and no adequate recreation facilities for children. In the
latter part of last year some playground equipment was finally erected.
Some lip-service was given to making the environment better, and token
gestures such as the painting of buildings and planting trees were
made, but the basic situation remained unchanged. Community groups
donated some toys for the use of detainees while I was there.
there was no real access to television, radios, cassettes, newspapers,
magazines and books for children or adults. This improved by the time
I had left - although this had the disadvantage of exposing detainees
to vilification of them in the media.
34. The focus
of the WIRPC was on security and this was reflected in the changes
in fences over time to high palisade fences and razor wire.
35. The model
upon which the WIRPC was run was a correctional one. The guards had
prison backgrounds and were used to dealing with criminals. Accordingly
I observed that many of the officers treated detainees as if they
were violent criminals. There were some changes to a less correctional
model during the first 12 months that I was at the WIRPC but this
did not last.
36. There was
inadequate education available to children of all ages. The level
of education fell well short of a minimum standard for children. I
observed children go backwards in leaps and bounds because of the
destructive environment and the lack of any basic education programme.
37. I advocated
the use of the Catholic school in town to provide a regular educational
programme from 8.30 to 3.30pm each day. In my opinion this would have
been a significant improvement, however, I understand that there were
community objections to the proposal.
children were able to have an excursion to Breen Park in the Woomera
Township, but this happened neither regularly nor often.
I also part of a team that arranged for the children to go to the
movies on one occasion. This was conditional that the staff made sure
the movie theatre was cleaned up afterwards.
39. Diet was
also inadequate for children. They were required to eat the food provided
to all detainees. There was no culturally appropriate diet and no
freedom of choice. Fruit was restricted to one piece per person and
extra could not be removed from the dining room. Milk was restricted
and only after much debate that families were allowed to have yoghurt
- which is a staple part of many detainees' diets in their own countries.
On occasions, I would eat with the detainees and on one occasion (I
cannot specify the date) I refused to eat the food and complained.
40. The uncertainties
surrounding length of detention and the processing of visas was a
significant traumatising factor for all detainees. The children absorbed
the stresses of the community in the WIRPC.
41. I was especially
concerned about the level of advice and assistance provided to UAMs
in the visa process. This appeared to be inadequate and significant
anxiety and confusion was expressed to me by UAMs.
42. From my observations,
UAMs did not receive any legal advice or assistance until their second
interview with DIMIA, which may not have taken place for 6 weeks after
having been taken into detention. At their first interview, when they
were screened in or out of the protection visa system, they were not,
to my knowledge, provided with legal advice or representation by a
lawyer or other advocate who was acting solely in their interest.
They received legal advice for the second interview, but their contact
with the legal advisers was sporadic and infrequent.
in the Media
43. I was also
very concerned about the effect on detainees and children of vilification
of asylum seekers that appeared in the media. Much of this took the
form of negative stereotyping and allegations made by politicians.
The portrayal of asylum seekers as criminals and bad people caused
children significant distress. Children asked me: "Why do they
say we are bad people?" and "Why do they call us criminals?"
44. I saw parents
age daily in detention as a result of the stress of detention. Over
time many lost their ability to function effectively as parents and
I saw family relationships break down. Parents felt guilt for what
they thought they had done to their family in bringing them into this
45. Where parents
developed depression, they were often put on medication, which further
affected their ability to function. I was of the view that there was
an over-reliance on medication in treating detainees with depression.
46. One effect
of this on children was to become obsessed with getting a visa to
save their family.
child abuse and neglect
when I started at the WIRPC there were inadequate procedures for dealing
with child abuse. There was no policy for reporting child abuse. We
were lead to believe that we were within a federal jurisdiction and
there was no need to report incidents to the South Australia Family
and Youth Services (FAYS).
48. This changed
when the Flood Report was released in February 2001. From this time
on I felt that the procedure for dealing with child abuse was adequate.
Where there were allegations of child abuse, children were moved away
from alleged perpetrators (but not removed from the centre) and the
matter was reported to FAYS.
49. Because I
regarded the environment in which children were held as abusive I
raised this with ACM. I was told this was a DIMIA matter. I raised
this with DIMIA and I was fobbed off. My colleagues and I expressed
the view in clear terms that children should be removed from detention
because they were either being exposed to abuse or a likelihood of
50. I regarded
the failure to remove UAMs, over whom the Minister for Immigration
was guardian, from the WIRPC as a matter of particular concern. There
did not appear to be a competent and independent advocate for UAMs.
51. The main
difference with the CIRPC was that there was greenery around. However,
there were still minimal activities available.
52. The feelings
of helplessness and hopelessness were still prevalent, although the
level of desperation was less.
53. While I was
employed at the CIRPC there was an incident of grave-digging by adults.
They dug graves and lay in them as a form of protest. This was witnessed
54. At CIRPC
the UAM management programme was different to that at the WIRPC. There
was more documentation and a management plan for each UAM. These plans
identified needs but in many ways these needs could not be addressed
simply because they were in detention. It was a start but identifying
these needs it created more frustration for clinicians although it
did create a document trail.
55. The education
programme at the CIRPC appeared to be more structured within the compound
for adults and older children received education in town for older
children, which was an improvement. However, for younger children
there was no real difference I could see in the inadequate levels
of education and in my view the projected educational outcomes for
children were again poor.
I make this solemn
declaration by virtue of the Statutory Declarations Act 1959 as amended
and subject to the penalties provided by that Act for the making of
false statements in statutory declarations, conscientiously believing
the statements contained in this declaration to be true in every particular.
Signed on 16 July
Updated 10 October 2002.