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Submission to the National
Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention from
Many of my clients
(while I was working as a Child and Adolescent Counsellor with STARTTS
June 2000 - January 2002) refused to talk about their experiences in Australian
Immigration Detention Centres. In addition, several mothers only let me
see their children for counselling on the condition that I not raise their
Australian Detention experiences as it would distress them too much and
they do not want to talk about it. This concerned me a lot. These same
children (aged between 6 and 17) discussed their trauma experiences in
their country of origin and other countries of asylum but would not talk
about their experiences in Australia.
Those clients who did discuss Australian Detention spoke of their traumatic
experiences, including such matter of lack of schooling; lack of information
regarding their health, status and rights; mistreatment by ACM staff including
separation from primary care givers within the centre.
Lack of support services for clients released on Temporary Protection
Visas was particularly disappointing. Families with extremely physically
ill children had no information on how to access health care; unaccompanied
minors had little information on their rights and minimal support in learning
how to function on a practical daily basis.
As a psychologist, I found this work very challenging. As an Australian,
I found it disappointing and shameful that these children appeared to
be further traumatised on arrival in Australian due to being mandatorily
detained, mistreated whilst in detention, and the lack of support and
information about survivng in society upon release. The fact that some
of my youngest clients refused to talk about their detention experiences
and would "prefer" to discuss such issues as witnessing violence
and having family members killed and tortured was highly disturbing. Their
refusal to discuss their Australian Detention experiences was problematic
as it was indicative that these experiences were more traumatising than
their horrific experiences in their country of origin and other countries
The children I counselled when working for STARTTS and those I saw as
a Settlement Services Officer when working for the Department of Immigration
had had very little security and stability in their lives, if at all.
On arriving in Australia, their sense of trust in a safe and just world
was further destroyed as they felt they were being punished and didn't
know why. Highly traumatised children should definately not be separated
from their primary care givers - the results I saw of this were high levels
of anxiety, difficulties in establishing trust and relationships, suicidal
ideation and depression.
Updated 14 July 2003.