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Submission to the National

Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention from

The Sabean Mandaean Association

of Australia



Sabean Mandaeans as a Religion and Ethnicity


Children in Iran and Iraq


Journey to Australia




Children with Depressed and Desperate Parents


Children Alone


Specific to SM Children


Children Isolated in Incarceration


Children Persecuted by Muslim Adults


Children Harassed by Muslim Children


to SM Children in Immigration Detention


17th July 2002

By E.J. Hattom – The Association Spokesperson


The Sabean

Mandaeans as a Religion and Ethnicity

The Sabean Mandaean

Association in Australia was founded in 1982. The Association’s

financial and non-financial membership is around 2,000 persons. Inter

alia, the Association looks after the humanitarian, spiritual, and social

needs of Mandaean asylum seekers who have settled or who wish to settle

in Australia.

All the Association’s

members are Mandaean, both ethnically and spiritually. The Mandaean faith

is the last surviving Gnostic religion. Although it is monotheistic, it

is also dualist, believing in the existence of a World of Light and a

World of Darkness. Mandaeans believe that the faith’s first prophet

is Adam and that its greatest teacher is John the Baptist. Thus, baptism

in running water is of pivotal importance to Mandaeans.

As Mandaeans have

remained unmixed with any other race or religion for thousands of years,

academics consider them as both a religion and an ethnicity.


Children in Iran and Iraq

In order for the

Commission to accurately ascertain the psychological, emotional, and physical

condition of Mandaean children in Immigration Detention, the Association

feels that it is necessary to give a brief account of the children’s


In Iran, the children

are forced to study the Qur’an and the Islamic religion,

knowing full well that it is not the faith of their parents. They are

bullied incessantly by Muslim children: Muslim children pick on them for

being Mandaean, calling them ‘nejis’ which means ‘defiled’;

they are not allowed to play with Muslim children and are ostracized in

school playgrounds; disputes and disagreements between children are almost

always resolved in favour of the Muslim child; they are not allowed to

drink from the water founts utilized by Muslim children as they are told

they would contaminate the water due to their Mandaeanism.

A number of Mandaean

children have been abducted by Islamists and forcibly converted to Islam.

A larger number have been threatened with abduction and forced conversion.

This is often but not exclusively used as a tool by corrupt authorities

and criminals to extort money from well-to-do Mandaean jewelers.

An even more serious

occurrence is the sexual assault of Mandaean children. Even in these instances,

Mandaeans have no recourse under Iran’s Islamic laws and complaining

only serves to exacerbate the situation for the Mandaean child and his

or her parents. There is at least one Mandaean child currently in detention

who we know has been sexually assaulted, as verified by the Department’s

own child psychologist.

In Iraq, children

live under what is arguably the most diabolical political regime in the

history of human civilization. The entire population survives in a state

of constant alert, always fearing and preparing for impending war. There

is not a single Iraqi child alive today who has not seen war or the devastating

effects of the combination of Saddam Hussein’s despotic rule and

the UN’s crippling sanctions.

Being a tiny minority,

Mandaean children in Iraq are extremely vulnerable to the excesses of

the regime, and particularly to the effects of witnessing the oppression

and persecution to which their parents are subjected.

Not unlike their

peers in Iran, Iraqi children are also bullied on the basis of their Mandaeanism

and are constantly subjected to ostracism and degrading comments that

have a long-lasting detrimental psychological effect.


Journey to Australia

The hazardous journey

to Australia also takes its toll on Mandaean children. Even on the boat

on the way over to Australia, children suffer discrimination by the Islamists.

On average, the journey takes 36 hours and is very perilous. Often, the

children experience the fury of the Indian Ocean and feel that their end

is imminent.

What exacerbates

their situation is that on many journeys, Mandaeans are forced by the

Islamists to sit away from the rest of the Muslim passengers. On one occasion,

Mandaeans were threatened with violence when a dispute over food occurred.

This, without doubt, compounds the impact upon the mental state of the

Mandaean child even before he or she is placed in Immigration Detention:

the extreme persecution by the treacherous circumstances and the religious

persecution from their fellow travelers. It is difficult to gauge the

precise impact of these circumstances upon Mandaean children but there

is plenty of behavioral evidence to indicate that the impact is very negative.



Incarcerated SM Children

In general, Mandaean

children suffer at least as much as any other child in detention. According

to parents who have contacted the Association, Mandaeans who have visited

detainees and their children and have subsequently contacted the Association,

and members of the Association’s leadership who have personally

visited detainees and their children, the situation for Mandaean children

is rather grim.

The Preamble to the

Convention on the Rights of the Child states that “the child…should

grow up in…an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding”

Needless to say, parents who are incarcerated and are highly uncertain

of their future, are inclined to be very unhappy. Furthermore, it is likely

that their capacity for loving their children and for understanding them

in such conditions is greatly diminished. From a number of accounts, both

the Mandaean parents and their children are very unhappy in Immigration


What follows for

a lot of the Mandaean children of whom the Association is aware is an

inclination to under eat, to not engage in playtime, to lack enthusiasm

for any educational activity, to rebel against any figure of authority,

especially the parents, to begin developing anti-social behavioral traits,

and to either over-sleep or be sleep-deprived.


Children with Depressed and Desperate Parents

A Mandaean girl [age

removed] has been in detention for over two years. Her mother is extremely

depressed and [has] attempted suicide [date removed]. She regularly writes

letters to family members who are outside of the detention centre of such

an emotionally wrenching nature that she has been repeatedly admonished

by her mother for writing them. The latest one was written by her [date

removed] and was obtained by the Association; following is a translation

that deliberately neglects the names of persons.

Dearest Sister,

I wish to buy

(my nieces and nephews) beautiful things. Sometimes I annoy (my sibling).

Mother is very kind. I would love to buy you a present. God willing,

when I am out of here, sister, I would like to die. In the very last

minute, you would yell at me and punish me. Sister, today, my mother

and (my sibling) yelled at me and told me not to write such letters

every day anymore. (My sibling) told on me. Sister, I wish I were never

born in this world. It is better that I ask God to let me die. People

don’t usually say things like this, but I want to ask, sister,

if someone commits suicide will they go to Hell?

This particular girl

obviously sees no hope. Her mother has been rejected several times and

is facing deportation and, she believes, severe persecution or death once

she is returned to her homeland. The Association believes the mother is

trying to take her own life to force the Australian Government to save

her children. This girl is well aware of the situation and it seems to

have destroyed her life and her will to live it.

[Identifying details

removed]. She does not know when her suffering and her incarceration will

end. Undoubtedly, she feels betrayed. If she were more politically aware

she would fully understand the hypocrisy of a society and its institutions

that claim the moral high ground on issues of human rights while treating

desperate children so nonchalantly.

Another girl of [age

removed] who remains incarcerated, drew a picture of herself being crucified

and explained that she was “stuck”, that she was

nailed to the place she is in and that she was “caught in this

suffering”. Further, she described the crown of thorns on her

head as representing the “pressure she feels in her head”.

She is said, by those who know her, to have suffered extreme bouts of

depression where she becomes “sullen, non-communicative, and

withdraws into the corner of the room”. She has also seen people

subject themselves to self-harm and was once fearful of being burnt alive

when she was left in a compound that was set alight by rioting adult detainees.

Needless to say, her situation remains acutely dismal.

Mandaean children

as young as 14 and 12 have felt so despairing that they have voluntarily

gone on hunger strike, according to those who have been close to their


SM Children


A Mandaean child

[age removed] been alone in Immigration Detention for nearly one year.

He arrived in Australia with no money whatsoever. Thus, he began working

in the detention centre’s kitchen and earning a small amount of

money. However, soon thereafter, he was threatened by a number of Islamists

in the centre to stop handling their food. Being a Mandaean, he was seen

as an infidel and unworthy of handling food to be consumed by Muslims.

When he refused to do their bidding they assaulted him and then had the

temerity to complain and get him fired from his $1 an hour job. It is

our understanding that some time later he was assaulted once again and

threatened against complaining about them to authorities. Every time he

has had a visitor, Islamists watch him aggressively and make threatening

gestures at him.

This boy stated that

he believed those who cause trouble have a better chance of being accepted

and released than those who abide by the rules of the centre. He believes

that those who are persecuting him are going to get away with their malign

actions while he “rots” in detention.


Specific to SM Children

SM Children with Parents Persecuted

in Detention

Almost all Mandaeans

who are or have once upon a time been in Immigration Detention claim to

have suffered persecution at the hands of Islamists. This persecution,

usually witnessed by or directed towards Mandaean children, has included

but is not limited to the following:

1. Verbal abuse

of Mandaeans by Islamists

2. Physical abuse of Mandaeans by Islamists

3. Islamists defecating on Mandaeans

4. Islamists defecating at the doors of rooms occupied by Mandaeans

5. Islamists prohibiting Mandaean children from playing with their children

6. Islamists prohibiting Mandaeans from eating with them

7. Mandaeans prohibited by Islamists from being involved in food preparation

8. Islamists prohibiting Mandaeans from playing sports with them

9. Islamists prohibiting Mandaeans from washing their clothes in the

same washing machines that they use

10. Islamists ignoring the verbal and physical abuse by their children

of Mandaean children

11. Islamist clergymen in detention issuing ‘fatwas’ stating

that killing Mandaeans is sanctioned in Islam

12. Islamists threatening Mandaeans against complaining to authorities

about them

13. Islamists setting fire to the residences of Mandaeans and Christians

14. Islamists turning the water off for Mandaean and Christian ablutions


15. Islamists preventing Mandaeans and Christians from using certain


16. Islamists forcing Mandaean women to observe the strict Islamic dress

code including abusing a young Mandaean woman for wearing shorts

17. Islamists abusing Mandaean children and adults whilst standing in

meal queues

18. Islamists conducting a concerted campaign of vilification against


Mandaean children

thus exist in the midst of conditions that are a significantly similar

facsimile of those they fled from. Only here, there is nowhere to flee

to and the only option available is isolation in a confined space. Thus,

children and their parents who have escaped persecution are persecuted

once again in Immigration Detention and are given the option of even worse

confinement for their troubles.


Children Isolated in Incarceration

There has been at

least one instance where Mandaean children and their parents have been

isolated from the Islamists in Immigration Detention. In that particular

case, the Association learnt that Mandaean children complained of even

more feelings of despair at the horrendous injustice of being punished

for being Mandaean. They rightly felt they were being treated unfairly

at being made to bear the result of ill treatment by a group of idiotic,

backward, and hostile men who should have been punished for their physical

and verbal violence and for their intolerance of other faiths. Instead,

Mandaean children had to make do with fewer facilities, and even less

space and have to witness their troublemaking oppressors being released

into the Australian community while they remained incarcerated and were

told the Australian Government was incredulous of their claims of being

persecuted in their homeland.


Children Persecuted by Muslim Adults

The Mandaean Association

is aware of a great number of claims made by Mandaean children that they

suffer persecution by Islamist adults because of their faith. Some of

these claims were investigated by the media. In his article published

in The Age on May 10th of this year, Mr. Russell Skelton stated that “Mandaean

girls are harassed by Muslim men who see them as “infidels”

not worthy of respect.” This has a profound effect on the mental

and emotional health of Mandaean girls who have no means by which to bring

to an end the unacceptable behavior of fundamentalists bent on forcing

their spiritual viewpoint on everyone.

There have also been

incidents where Islamist adults have verbally abused Mandaean children

of both sexes when they engaged in play or sport with Muslim children.

To the best of our knowledge, this is still going on today and all the

efforts by ACM and the Department to correct this oppression of unfortunate

children have been fruitless.


Children Harassed by Muslim Children

Situations where

there are very few Mandaean children and a large number of Muslim children

have resulted in the prevalence of severe forms of bullying. Whilst parents

of children who bully often frown upon such behavior, Islamist parents

seem to encourage or, at the very least, ignore the conduct of their children

towards Mandaean children.

Often, Mandaean children

who have endured and survived arduous and terrifying journeys to reach

Australia find that the playground of the place wherein they are incarcerated

is essential no different in the treatment it affords them from the playgrounds

of the countries they have escaped. Often, also, there are only Muslim

children to play with and as this is itself unpalatable to Muslim children

of extremist parents, Mandaean children are physically and emotionally

secluded within detention.

A witness statement

given on the 10th of January this year, cited at the Refugee Review Tribunal

stated: “Mandaian (sic) children are constantly subjected to

verbal harassment by both adults and peers. Sometimes it happens that

Mandaian and Muslim children develop a friendship. On these occasions,

it is not uncommon for the Muslim child to be instructed by his or her

parents to inform the Mandaian child that the Mandaian is not to touch

the Muslim, nor share food, or (sic) to be in any sort of contact, as

this would render the Muslim child “unclean”. This has a serious

psychological impact on the Mandaian child, amounting substantially to


And whilst raising the same issue with Minister Philip Ruddock on the

14th of May this year, Amnesty International said that “(b)earing

in mind that the Mandaean children may already be traumatized, such Islamist

mistreatment seems likely to be psychologically very damaging to the Mandaean



to SM Children in Immigration Detention

There are limits

to human endurance. There are even smaller limits to the endurance capacity

of children. Immigration detention has and is exceeding those limits and

is doing so under the guise of the law.

Children have escaped

man’s lawless inhumanity to man in Iran and Iraq only to find man’s

legally-sanctioned inhumanity to man in Australia.

Children whose parents

come here illegally are not at fault. Children can never be responsible

for their parents’ actions. Nor should they ever be punished for

their parents’ ill-advised decision to seek protection in Australia.

It is ridiculous to take the policy position that children should suffer

so that they would be made an example of in order to discourage people

smugglers and so called forum shoppers from journeying illegally to Australia.

The general community

has suffered a “dumbing down” on the issue of refugees for

political expediency. To that effect, they are innocent of what is being

perpetrated against children in detention. But for those who are in the

know and for those who have the means to correct this abuse of children,

there is no excuse. There is little more abominable to basic decency than

the exploitation of children as fodder in the ferocious political bombardment

of hapless refugees.

Many of us are guilty

of allowing this to take place rather than to suffer notoriety for going

against ill-informed public opinion. It is astounding to the Association

that there is even a need to conduct an inquiry into children in Immigration

Detention, that somehow we have to investigate whether incarcerating innocent

children is wrong.

The Association has

no hesitation in forthrightly demanding the immediate and unconditional

release of all Mandaean children from Immigration Detention and that no

Mandaean child ever be placed in detention for seeking the protection

of a country that regards itself as civilized and humanitarian.

In the words of the

poet W.H. Auden: “About suffering they were never wrong,/ The Old

masters: how well they understood / Its human position; how it takes place

/ While someone else is eating or opening a window or just / walking dully


(Musee des Beaux Arts – December 1938)

Children are suffering

right now while we all go about our business. We implore you to act swiftly

in recognizing and ending it.

Thank you.


Updated 14 July 2003.