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Submission to National Inquiry

into Children in Immigration Detention from

the Coalition Assisting Refugees

After Detention (CARAD) Perth, WA.


The Coalition

Assisting Refugees After Detention (CARAD)

CARAD is a group

of volunteers, supporters and donors formed from January 2000, in an attempt

to meet some of the range of essential and urgent needs of refugees who

reach Perth, following assessment of their claim while in a detention

centre. We have now met in excess of 2,000 refugees, not all of whom remain

in WA, and have provided them with compassionate, practical assistance.

We estimate that there are about 1000 individual volunteers, supporters

and donors affiliated with CARAD.

Objectives of

CARAD

  • To provide practical

    assistance with settlement needs to those refugees, released from a

    detention centre, who hold a temporary protection visa; or in some cases,

    a bridging visa.

  • To advocate for

    particular individuals and groups in these categories

  • To campaign for

    the promotion and protection of the rights of asylum seekers and refugees.

We are a loose coalition

of individuals and organizations of mixed humanitarian, age, political

and faith backgrounds, motivated by the way that refugees with temporary

protection are treated by the law and the public policies that have been

adopted by the Government. A temporary protection visa denies essential

services provided to refugees who have permanent protection. This includes

denial of family reunion.

Volunteers provide

a huge range of services to refugees, including finding housing and settlement

assistance, completing application forms for entitlements, enrolling children

at schools, teaching English, organising community based information sessions,

public speaking and advocacy for refugee individuals and families. We

campaign and lobby to change state and Commonwealth laws and the policies

of mandatory detention and temporary protection for people acknowledged

to be refugees. Individuals and agencies also support the work of CARAD

with donations of furniture and household goods, clothing and money for

refugees with temporary protection.

Increasingly our

attention has been drawn to the conditions in detention centres, especially

from experiences related by refugees on release and from media reports

of events occurring there. A number of asylum seekers in detention are

in contact with CARAD volunteers and relay their concerns to us.

Introduction

CARAD opposes mandatory

detention for asylum seekers whose claim is being processed. Along with

many bodies whose focus is to promote human rights and work for social

justice, CARAD holds that the Australian Government is in breach of a

number of international treaties and human rights conventions in its treatment

of asylum seekers. It must seek alternatives to mandatory detention -

and also give people found to be refugees, permanent protection with the

entitlements to which refugees from offshore assessments have.

Our organization

holds that once identity, health and security checks have been completed,

the claims for refugee status should be processed in the community.

CARAD notes that

the refugees we are currently meeting have been in detention for many

months, some for up to two years. There are people with whom we are in

telephone contact who have been detained for three and two years. Although

their claim has been rejected, there is no country to which they are able

to repatriate. Visitors to centres tell us that there is palpable despair.

There is little to do and no hope: there is no known future and people

have had no contact with family.

Self-harm and threat

of self-harm, mental illness and physical manifestations of illness are

apparently common for detainees, but approaches to alleviating this distress

are pharmaceutical and/or isolation. Such solutions do not address the

issues for each person. There have been protests and riots at some centres.

These are unacceptable

conditions for every one, and especially for children, to live in and

to observe.

Letters recently

sent from Nauru, where there are many children, to one man we know, tell

of this despair and loss of hope for the future; they tell of the iron

curtain behind which the asylum seekers live and the lack of contact with

the outside world and their total disempowerment.

Despite official

denials, detention centres are prisons, but the conditions do not match

those for offenders. There are standard guidelines for prisoners held

in other Australian correctional services. At the least, convicted offenders

know the length of their sentence. Children would never be incarcerated

with adults in any other Australian prison.

While mandatory detention

remains the means of dealing with "unauthorised arrivals", then

a similar set of criteria to those which operate in prisons in order to

maintain minimum standards and the basic rights of offenders should assist

broadly in the improvement of conditions for detainees. This would include

an Independent Inspector of Detention Centres.

This brief submission

addresses our concerns about mandatory detention and its effects on very

vulnerable children, as well as bringing particular cases, with parental

permission, to your attention. We would be pleased to appear before any

hearings should you think that helpful.

We outline concerns

related to all of the terms of reference, but especially address terms

2 and 4; viz

  • The mandatory

    detention of child asylum seekers and other children arriving in Australia

    without visas, and alternatives to detention

  • The impact of

    detention on the well-being and healthy development of children, including

    their long term development

The provison is that

we have not, of course, had access to detention centres and rely on the

stories of refugees, as well as media reports and the publicly and privately

expressed concerns of a number of professionals and representatives of

church bodies who have visited.

Because of the guardianship

issues involved with refugee children who are not accompanied by a parent,

we have little direct contact with them. We remain concerned at their

incarceration, about the conditions of care in detention and also provisions

when released. Other organizations will be making submissions to this

Inquiry in regard to these children.

CARAD volunteers

have, however, met many children of all ages who have been in a detention

centre. They are our major concern. Although there have been more than

500 children detained

at any one time through

2000-01, we argue that the refugee children we meet after detention must

be recognised as a continuing vulnerable population with special needs.

As yet we have had

not met any children detained at Nauru or Manus, but parents of some are

known to us, and they hold grave fears, with some justification, that

they won't be reunited.

In the introduction

we want to suggest that a tool, the trajectory, could help understand

the anxiety and uncertainty, common to this group of refugees and detainees.

It may help to understand the ongoing anxiety and uncertainty of refugees.

Skilled mental health

professionals have been able to identify three stages of the refugee experience

that can contribute to mental illness, in particular the now well-accepted

syndrome of post-traumatic stress disorder. These are the conditions of

persecution leading to the decision to flee the country, the journey to

safety and the arrival/settlement experience. There is a reasonable expectation

that these will be sequential.

While it is critical

that, for assessment purposes or as a critique of policy and law, the

impact of detention on children be distinguished, it seems to us that

while refugees -and observers- can identify particular times or components

of their experience, and while the mental health literature can isolate

particular phases and consequent dislocations, it may be a false distinction

for individual experience and mental health outcomes.

It seems to us that

the detention remains, in most part, one component of the journey for

which safety and freedom are the end goals. Many of the concerns of asylum

seekers and refugees are temporal; how long will I be here: our house

was burned before the snow came: when can my father come: we lived in

the mountains for six months: this started when X came to power: we only

have ten months left on our visa, etc. They have no control over any of

these matters, a condition to which there are different individual responses.

"Trajectory"

is a descriptive tool, developed by medical sociologists thirty or so

years ago, to understand illness over a period of time, which may assist

with understanding the refugee journey. It is a line or pathway that develops

under given forces and can be used to describe the way in which the course

of an illness is expected to take shape. The experience belongs though,

not only to the patient (or the refugee), but also to those managing their

case, whose expectations can standardise the outcome.

There is nothing

precise about illness trajectories. There need be nothing linear. The

length of time remains uncertain and new circumstances re-define them.

For example, people with cancer might die more quickly that anyone expected

or have very long remissions; a seemingly minor viral infection can have

devastating consequences.

There is nothing

precise, either, about refugee trajectories; nothing linear, nothing sequential,

nothing certain. They see others in detention who came later, leave earlier.

They get no information as to the status of their claim. There is no end

point, no sentence length. And neither is there any end once they are

determined to be refugees. It is our contention that the uncertainty now

generated for acknowledged refugees has returned them to the status of

persecuted again.

When released, refugees

with temporary protection have no idea what is to become of their lives

in Australia. There is much speculation among all refugees, including

those not from Afghanistan, as to their likely fate in Australia; about

when they can secure family reunion and about the difficulty of making

any plans for their future.

Even though objectively

safe, detained asylum seekers whose future remains undetermined for months

and years, cannot be said to have arrived at any end point. There may

not be one for people who cam by boat as "unauthorised arrivals".

And the Parliament ensured that it would be almost impossible for any

unauthorised arrival to settle permanently in Australia from September

27th 2001.

The insecurity now

generated for refugees about their future, especially those from Afghanistan,

has pushed them backwards along their trajectory.

But despite their

country of origin, as the first group of people with claims for permanent

protection are soon due to be assessed, a palpable anxiety is building

in the temporary refugee community. Uncertainty and insecurity are heightened

as they contemplate a future over which they have no control, for which

they can make no plans; a future that might take them backwards.

So the refugee trajectory

is marked by uncertainty and any ability to plan, a condition that dis-empowers

and takes the capacity to make a future away from parents, and one felt

very keenly by the child refugees we know. This contributes in negative

ways to the well-being and healthy development of child refugees. Their

journey can never be over until their status as refugees is resolved.

Detention and

the rights of refugee children.

Given that most of

the world's refugees are women and children it is unsurprising that children

have reached Australia by unauthorised means. It should be emphasised

that the government's policies to detain children and unaccompanied minors

do not protect the best interests of those children. The treatment of

child asylum seekers in Australia contravenes the Convention on the Rights

of the Child by breaching a number of its Articles (see below).

Australia agreed

to be bound by the Convention on the Rights of the Child in December 1990

when it ratified the Convention. The Australian government has made the

Convention a "relevant international instrument" under the federal

Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Act 1986.

The UNHCR has directed

that minors who are asylum seekers should not be detained, the considered

view also of CARAD. The Convention provides that children should only

be detained as a last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of

time (Article 37b).

Alternatives to the

detention of children which involve the child remaining with her or his

parents out of detention should be the policy norm in Australia. CARAD

also opposes the splitting of families and where there are two parents,

both should be assessed in the community, not just the mother.

The Inquiry is examining:

  • the provisions

    made by Australia to implement its international human rights obligations

    regarding child asylum seekers, including unaccompanied minors

  • the mandatory

    detention of child asylum seekers and other children arriving in Australia

    without visas, and alternatives to their detention

  • the impact of

    detention on the well-being and healthy development of children, including

    their long-term development.

  • the adequacy and

    effectiveness of the policies, agreements, laws, rules and practices

    governing children in immigration detention or child asylum seekers

    and refugees residing in the community after a period of detention,

    with particular reference to:

    • the conditions

      under which children are detained

    • health, including

      mental health, development and disability

    • education
    • culture
    • guardianship

      issues; and security practices in detention

  • the additional

    measures and safeguards which may be required in detention facilities

    to protect the human rights and best interests of all detained children

  • the additional

    measures and safeguards which may be required to protect the human rights

    and best interests of child asylum seekers and refugees residing in

    the community after a period of detention.

The Minister for

Immigration is able to grant a bridging visa to a child under 18 (but

not their parent/s), pending the resolution of their application to remain

in Australia. A child released from detention would therefore be denied

the protection and assistance of his or her parents. However, this section

of the Act does and should apply to those children not accompanied by

an adult, and there is no need to detain them during the time their claim

for refugee status is being assessed.

CARAD claims that

not only has Australia failed to implement the obligations accepted as

a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to this population

of children, but that those obligations have been flouted. These failures

are apparent in the imposition of mandatory detention and the conditions

of temporary protection. The best interests of the child are neither considered

nor protected.

In order to preserve

those rights, no child should ever be kept in a detention centre. The

negative experiences of adult detainees are magnified for children whose

innate vulnerability is compounded by the conditions that drove them from

their country, who do not have access to counselling, to an appropriate

curriculum for general education or for English language or for suitable

play experiences. They also in very touching ways, often take responsibilities

beyond their years for protecting and making decisions about a parent

or sibling.

CARAD works with

a range of organizations and agencies and is able to refer children to

them as necessary. We want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to

the high quality and respectful services provided to refugee children

by the counsellors from the Association for Torture and Trauma Survivors;

to the school teachers who took risks to enrol the first groups of children

at Intensive Language Centres; and to those church schools who made room

for refugee children. They have each made a statement by their actions

that recognises the rights of these children.

Since the first group

of refugees holding Temporary Protection Visas (785) arrived in January

2000, we have been perturbed by a consistent pattern of stories about

the conditions at Port Hedland and Curtin Detention Centres, as well as

of individual experiences of detention. (In many cases they mirror the

more publicised stories of Woomera detainees). We have been increasingly

drawn to issues related to detention, and increasingly concerned at the

implications of this policy.

Some complaints made

by refugees, relate to the slow processing of claims and the lack of information

as to progress; to the conditions in the centre, including breaches of

privacy, general hygiene and cleanliness, maintenance of equipment, the

early ban on watching TV news; a perceived unfairness in the application

of a range of rules; staff taunts and threats and denial of access to

needed health care and health information.

We continue to be

appalled by ongoing reports that detainees, children included, are identified

and called by number, not by name; the names apparently too difficult

to be pronounced by staff in detention centres. A common story is that

children of all ages do not have enough clothing while in detention. We

have heard of parents needing to work to earn the points so as to buy

nappies and clothes.

There are patterns

of issues about which complaints are made, and while most allegations

clearly have substance, we are not able to persuade complainants to formalise

their grievance, as they fear reprisal, in the form of denial of permanent

protection. It is also feared that news of such could identify them in

the country they have left, making their family there vulnerable.

This fear is itself

an indictment of the actual and/or perceived DIMIA processes; at the very

least the people acknowledged to be refugees should feel safe and be safe

from the possibility of reprisal or punishment for speaking about their

experiences while in Australia.

Conditions for

children in Detention Centre

A point to be considered

is that the children who arrive as "unauthorised entrants" have

direct experience of the conditions that caused their parents to flee.

Children are incarcerated with troubled, anxious men and women in a prison

like environment with limited space and barbed/razor wire fencing. They

tell of witnessing self harm, fights, attempted suicide, being temporarily

separated from a parent for no reason and being punished and/or threatened

by centre staff. These experiences resonate with the violence they have

left. We remain concerned about these and similar anecdotes, but parents

and older children are reluctant to complain, even when they leave detention,

for fear of reprisal. Detention Centres are no place for children

As set out in the

Convention on the Rights of the Child, all children are due the following

rights:

  • the right of

    all children to enjoy all the rights of the Convention without discrimination

    of any kind (article 2)

  • the right to survival

    and development (article 6)

  • the best interests

    of the child as a primary consideration in all actions concerning children

    (article 3(1))

  • the right of all

    children to participate meaningfully in all matters affecting them (article

    12)

  • the right to family

    life (articles 5, 9, 18).

The following information

is paraphrased from discussions with AseTTS, and is included, as it reflects

the comments relayed to CARAD volunteers by refugees CARAD claims that

not only has Australia failed to implement the obligations accepted as

a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to this population

of children, but that those obligations have been flouted. These failures

are apparent in the imposition of mandatory detention and the conditions

of temporary protection. The best interests of the child are neither considered

nor protected.

Living conditions

in detention are very difficult for families living with almost no privacy

and little to no control over their circumstances. Bathroom areas are

not kept clean; most detention centres are in hot climates with little

shaded area outside and air conditioning is, we are told, temperamental.

Head counts continue by day and night thus interrupting sleep, a critical

need for any one in these circumstances.

A number of issues

go to the heart of parenting practices and decisions. The deprivations

and inflexibilities must add to the disempowerment of this population.

They could also undermine the authority of parents in the eyes of their

children.

For instance;

Meals are at set

times which doesn't always work well for infants, toddlers and children.

If they are unable or unwilling to eat at the set times they go without

food.

It is sometimes

difficult to launder and dry clothing.

Clothes are taken

away from detainees on arrival. They are often left with one outfit

to wear. This causes problems particularly with infants and breast-

feeding mothers. Often there are not enough blankets particularly for

young babies and children to keep warm. Fathers of infants have been

required to work for tokens in order to pay for nappies etc. Some time

ago a CARAD volunteer met a woman sent on a 14 hour journey from detention

by bus with an infant. She had no nappies given her for the journey.

Play areas are

not suitable and there is a dearth of suitable/stimulating play resources

and toys.

Keys are necessary

to get anywhere in the detention centre and children, like their parents,

are treated as prisoners.

ACM staff and others

are often accused of interfering in disciplinary and other measures

they think parents should be exercising, or in ways that unaccompanied

children should be behaving. We have been told that staff members have

hit, or shouted at children, whether the parent is present or not.

There is little or

nothing to do and to keep occupied, which is a complaint of all detainees.

Recent first hand reports from teachers have verified the fact that schooling

is inadequate and the children have no curriculum to follow. Adaptations

for individual children are not made.

It seems inevitable

that there will be developmental delays simply because children are in

an environment where their needs, including their emotional needs, are

not met and they are surrounded by troubled adults, often their own parents.

Many medical and

health problems go undiagnosed or are not dealt with. In the last few

months, the media have brought two cases of children with severe psychiatric

illness to public attention with the stories of one at Villawood and another

from Woomera.

Post Traumatic Stress

Disorder of children is often neither looked for, nor identified, even

when problems are obvious and reported by the parent. These symptoms may

include withdrawal, depression, acting out and/or aggressive behaviour,

bedwetting, teeth grinding, nightmares and twitching.

As outlined below,

many of the children carry these problems with them on release. Non-identification

of a range of mental health problems and lack of torture and trauma counseling

services give reason for concern. Health services are inadequate and dental

care is limited to extractions.

There are concerns

about the lack of cultural and religious awareness among staff, not only

ACM staff, but also DIMIA and visiting staff. Few seem to have much appreciation

of the circumstances leading to reasons for their clientele leaving home

and then being detained, and few are able to deal with the numbers of

incidents that arise, except with a response that is used in prisons.

Staff still walk on prayer mats and do not knock before entering a room.

The Convention on

the Rights of the Child acknowledges that a child should grow up in a

family environment. We are disturbed by the lack of assistance in locating

family members, including

children, and friends

who are or who may be in Australia, or off shore detention centres. Detainees

and refugees should be informed that the Red Cross could assist with tracing

family members.

Children known

to CARAD volunteers

One of our (CARAD)

priorities is to provide clothes, including shoes, for children, as well

as toys and resources for school on release. We try to ensure they are

enrolled at school as soon as is practicable, and, as donated funds allow,

we try to ensure that there are some recreational and leisure activities

for them. We also provide support for their parent/s.

Those children, classified

as unaccompanied minors, are met on release by representatives of their

guardian, the Department of Community Development. Although we have little

contact with them, we have some major concerns about arrangements in and

out of detention for this group of asylum seekers and refugees, and understand

that submissions from other organizations will address relevant matters.

CARAD volunteers

who meet the newly released refugees continue to note that many refugees,

including children, require urgent medical and dental care for long-standing

and/or non-addressed health problems when they arrive in Perth.

The following fourteen

cases illustrate a range of experiences of child refugees, whose parents

have given us permission to include. Those of us who know the children

acknowledge the poignancy and grief that lies behind the incidents, as

well as the trust invested in us in this permission.

NOTE: the cases

referred to are confidential

Summary

As cautioned above,

CARAD volunteers have not visited children while they are in detention.

Our knowledge of conditions is derived both from what we have been told,

as well as the behaviours of children on release. Despite the small number

of cases we have outlined, there is a disturbing pattern of issues that

crosses the time at which they were in detention, as well as the center

they were in. The problems continue for children following their release,

not only because of experiences to date, but also because of the vulnerable

health status of refugee children and the increasing uncertainty round

their status.

A case can be supported

to claim that Australia is neglectful of its obligations to children as

set out in the Convention on the Rights of The Child.

For example: as set

out in the Convention, children in detention have the right to a range

of protections.

It is our contention

that the following obligations are not met in detention - as others may

not be:

  • the highest attainable

    standard of health (article 24)

  • education (articles

    28 and 29)

  • protection from

    all forms of physical or mental violence, sexual abuse and exploitation

    (articles 19 and 34)

  • protection as

    an asylum seeking child (article 22)

  • recovery from

    the effects of neglect, exploitation, abuse, torture or ill-treatment,

    or armed conflicts (article 39)

  • not be deprived

    of liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily, with detention only in conformity

    with the law, as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate

    period of time (article 37)

  • access to legal

    assistance and the right to challenge their detention (article 37)

  • rest and play

    (article 31)

  • privacy (article

    16)

  • a standard of

    living adequate for physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development

    (article 27) if detained, be treated with humanity and respect for their

    inherent dignity and in a manner which takes into account their age

    (article 37).

It will be important

for medical advisers to establish whether the prognosis of illnesses and

chronic conditions of individual children have been compromised by what

appears to be ineffective diagnosis and treatment. Almost every child

referred to in the cases above has required the services of skilled torture

and trauma counselors, a service that we believe should be available to

all people in detention, including children.

To summarise problems

for children as evidenced by the cases [note: these are in a confidential

submission], these include, while in detention,

  • undiagnosed and/or

    untreated health problems

  • neglect of the

    concerns of parents for children and lack of access to effective medical

    and health care

  • lack of an education

    program

  • identified and

    called by number and not by name

  • fears created

    by being detained with adults whose behaviours may be frightening

  • concern for their

    parent/s

And after release,

  • aggressive or

    untoward behaviour

  • withdrawal and

    depression

  • night terrors

    and dreams

  • loss of trust
  • return to bed

    wetting

  • concern for their

    parent/s and siblings

  • it is not uncommon

    either for children to lose time from school, because of headache, stomach

    ache and as one so eloquently said "heartache".

We have been privileged

to learn of ways that refugee children adapt to their experience and can

only deduce that the conditions they left, as well as conditions in detention

have contributed to the dreams, bedwetting, illnesses, fear of loss and

bullying.

It is impossible

to expect that social reintegration or recovery from trauma (Article 39)

will occur when the community is receiving hostile messages inviting vilification

of refugees, and there has been no moral leadership to explain the needs

of these people for a safe place.

Post detention

experiences for children

As outlined in the

introduction, detention is one component in the refugee trajectory and

we want to bring some issues to the Inquiry that do not arise directly

from the terms of reference. Refugee children are further disadvantaged

by the conditions of the Temporary Protection Visa for them and their

parent/s. We outline four concerns.

School and English

Language

In the early days

there was even confusion as to whether refugee children could attend state

schools, although a primary and a secondary Intensive Language Centre

and Catholic schools were the first to be prepared to enroll children

in their classes.

In our view, the

conditions of the visa breach articles of the Convention (eg 28,29,39).

One is denial of access to English Language lessons for adults and children

alike. For instance, there is no Federal Government funding for places

at Intensive Language Centres for children with temporary protection visas,

The new state government in WA has left enrollment of refugee children

to the discretion of teachers, so that they can be enrolled if places

are available. This kind of schooling is essential for these children,

not only because of their experience of absent or interrupted schooling,

their needs for the best English language teaching, but also because pastoral

care is readily available for them.

It is far from a

cliché to note that unless children are enrolled in Intensive Language

Centres, they are being set up to fail, and not only in their schooling

experience.

Another issue is

the way in which asylum seekers and refugees have been demonized and vilified

by the Government and in the media. Until the debate is reconfigured and

until there is a changed policy position, children will bear the brunt

of racist taunts or bullying at schools as well as the burden of feeling

they need to protect their parent/s from similar expressions of ignorance.

Identity

The rights to culture

and to nationality (Article 8) are crucial aspects of identity, nationality

in particular being connected to the claim for asylum. The right to a

name is often compromised, not only in detention by the use of numbers

for identification, but also at schools and in the wider community, children

are often assigned an anglicised name. Some children (and other refugees)

take it on themselves to adopt an Anglo/American name in order to reduce

difference.

A number of infants

have been born both in detention and following release. Each birth is

recorded by the state registrar of births. A certificate is provided to

the parents who are advised to notify the DIMIA to add the child's name

and date of birth to its records and to their applications for permanent

protection. Nationality is not recorded on any birth certificate in WA.

Article 5 of the

Convention frames the right of all children to grow up in a healthy family

environment with their parents or legal guardian having primary responsibility

for their upbringing. Family may include members of an extended family

or community, especially for those children coming from traditional pastoralist

and trading backgrounds.

The right of a child

to family relations also extends to the right of separated children to

be reunited with their parents. Article 22(2) obliges Australia to actively

trace the family or relatives of unaccompanied child asylum seekers. We

are concerned that this right to tracing and reunification extend also

to those children on Nauru and Manus who have a parent in Australia. This

agreement should be written into the contracts negotiated between the

countries. No-one should be sent elsewhere until it is established that

there are family members in Australia as refugees, with priority given

to families with children.

It is incongruous

that a Government that prides itself on support for family values, including

the right of children to know both parents, can discriminate against refugee

families by denying them the support that comes from strong families.

The conditions of

the Temporary Protection Visa have meant that some families have tried

to reunite informally, only to be thwarted by being detained in other

countries. Others fled their country from persecution without knowing

that the person who had left previously had come to Australia - and still

may not know they have part of their family here. Until very recently

even the Red Cross was unable to assist with tracing the links between

family members when someone was in detention as part of the so-called

"Pacific Solution".

The denial of family

reunion is the most pernicious of the conditions of the Temporary Protection

Visa (785). The ongoing uncertainty of its provisions takes a toll on

the adjustment and settlement progress of all refugees, including children,

some as young as six. Children certainly appreciate the vagaries of the

visa and follow changes in policy and legislation; they have a strong

sense of fairness and injustice. This raises issues related to mental

health.

Mental health

It is acknowledged

that children arriving in Australia as asylum seekers will have direct

experience of persecution and violence. They will (and do) have indirect

experience of the additional concerns of their parent/s, especially about

their future. Observations of children whose mother is the victim of domestic

violence has shown that the preverbal children are likely to be the most

adversely affected by the fears imparted by their mother. Refugee children

at this stage of development are no doubt similarly affected.

According to ASeTTS,

detention is often perceived as a repetition of previous experiences in

their country of origin. Children have no comprehension of the reason

for detention although they experience its effects. Among other things,

detention undermines the parental promises of escaping to safety.

The Convention requires

its signatories to make health services available and accessible to children,

including prevention, diagnosis and treatment services and including provisions

for mental health. Our cases demonstrate that these services are sadly

lacking. Even where there may be access to treatment, mental health matters

are notoriously poorly dealt with for all detainees and especially for

children.

Children who are,

or who are at risk of, mental illness must have access to specialised

crisis care and trauma counselling, as well as paediatric psychiatric

assessment.

The circumstances

of detention and temporary protection have forced them to relive the conditions

from which they escaped and to which it is feared they may be forced to

return. They are reliving the journey which brought them here, they are

reliving the way their claim was made in detention and some of the situations

in which they find themselves now. It all seems that these are ripe conditions

for triggering trauma issues and mental health problems.

There is also an

argument, that if as likely, most recognised refugees will be able to

remain in Australia, the Government has set up a system for this population

to be an underclass which will be dependent on social security, on the

mental health and public health and housing systems and find it very difficult

to be integrated into mainstream Australia.

In the three years

that refugee children hold a Temporary Protection Visa (785) they develop

significantly. Most are more competent in English language skills than

the adults for whom they come to interpret. A child who has started school

in the 6th year is more-or-less attuned at the age of 9 to the values

and content of an Australian primary education. Someone who came as a

child at 12 is now 15, or one who came as a dependent 15 year old is now

an independent young adult. These older children have been indoctrinated

by Amero/Australian teenage cultural values. The children increasingly

share the discussions of adults about their futures and some have said

they are getting illnesses that keep them from school.

Children share the

uncertainty of the whole temporary refugee community, which seems to us,

ripe for an epidemic of mental illness. This is compounded by the detention

experience, by vilification by Government and media, by racism and by

family separation.

In conclusion,

CARAD claims that not only has Australia failed to implement the obligations

accepted as a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

to this population of children, but that those obligations have been flouted.

These failures are

apparent in the imposition of mandatory detention, including off shore

detention, and the conditions of temporary protection. The best interests

of the child are neither considered nor protected, the effects of which

will perpetuate grave harm on a very vulnerable population.

Recommendations

The recovery of children

from the traumatic conditions they left should be promoted by the prevention

of further harms; in the first place by rejecting detention for children

and parents, in the second place by ensuring that refugees have permanent

protection with the right to family reunion.

They and their families

can then plan for their future, supported if necessary by health, counselling

and educational services of the highest quality.

CARAD does not

support mandatory detention for any asylum seekers whose claim for refugee

status is being processed and these principles should apply to those who

arrive without authorisation ;

  • alternatives to

    mandatory detention of asylum seekers should be reconsidered for all

    asylum seekers,

  • that as a matter

    of principle and to support rights protection as set out in the Convention,

    no child should ever be kept in a detention centre,

  • children under

    the age of 18 yrs should be in the care of one or both parents or foster

    parents in the community,

While mandatory

detention remains government policy and practice, CARAD recommends that:

  • resources for

    the processing of claims for refugee status be increased,

  • a finite time

    for assessment of all claims be determined, and individual applicants

    should be informed of the progress of their claim,

  • children and

    families have separate accommodation from other detainees,

  • parents can cook

    suitable food at suitable times for their children,

  • but those children

    who arrive without direct family members be released to the guardianship

    of the state while their claim is processed,

  • qualified staff

    be available at all times for children (and for all detainees) in relation

    to education, play, trauma counselling and all health needs,

  • a properly staffed

    health service, including mental health services, be available for detainees,

    with specialists available for children,

  • an accredited

    educational curriculum taught by qualified teachers be instituted at

    all centres where children are detained, and if practicable, the children

    should be taken to community schools close to the Centre,

  • provision be

    made for children's clothes, shoes and other material goods to be sufficient

    for needs in all detention centres,

  • a set of guidelines,

    similar to those prepared for other Australian correctional facilities

    be prepared and adopted for the protection and treatment of detainees,

  • the so called

    Pacific Solution should be abandoned and detainees transferred to Australia.

Asylum seekers

found to be refugees should be provided with permanent status

  • Refugee children

    with temporary protection should have right of access to Intensive Language

    Centres for their schooling

  • Staff and financial

    resources for trauma counselling and parental supports after detention

    must be increased

  • Efforts must

    be made for family reunion to be effected as soon as is possible for

    all refugees with temporary protection.

The appointment of

a Children's Commissioner is overdue and would be one means of ensuring

that the rights of all children, including those in detention centres

and those found to be refugees, are protected and promoted.

Last

Updated 9 January 2003.