Submission to the National
Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention from
INQUIRY INTO CHILDREN IN IMMIGRATION DETENTION
is a family support and out of home care children's welfare agency operating
services in New South Wales and ACT. We make this submission based on
a number of detainee children and young people that we have provided services
for within their own families, and as homeless adolescents. Furthermore,
Barnardos has general experience of the impact of institutional care of
children and young people, and children living with uncertainty and stress.
We have proved specialist support services to refugee Indo-Chinese young
people who have experienced detention in refugee camps.
We believe that the
children and young people who have been in detention have three sets of
issues: they have experienced migration, they have been refugees, and
they have had the added experience of detention. The impact of any one
of these issues is difficult to differentiate; however the cumulative
impact is significant.
This submission is
based on service experience predominantly with the last wave of political
refugees from Indo-china (1985-present) through Kingston House. However
we have had experience of detainees in 2001 from Afghanistan (two adolescents),
the West Sahara (an adolescent) and from Iraq (one family of five and
one father and child). These people had come through Villawood, Curtin
and Port Headland.
Kingston House was
established in 1985 to assist Indo-Chinese refugees who had arrived in
Australia without relatives or who had become isolated since arrival,
it subsequently moved into working with young people under the Orderly
Departure program and Family Reunion. Kingston House specialises in young
people with emotional disturbance and challenging behaviour. (Refer
Our submission relates
to terms of reference:
3. The adequacy
and effectiveness of the policies governing children in immigrant detention
or child asylum seekers and refugees residing in the community after
the period of detention with reference to the conditions under which
they are detained. Our experience of working with these young people
is that they can have very disturbed behaviour for long periods of time.
4. Impact of
detention on the well-being and healthy development of children, including
their long-term development. Our experience indicates that the length
of detention is directly related to the level of disturbance.
5. The additional
measures and safeguards, which may be required in detention facilities
to protect human rights and best interests of, detained children.
We believe that unaccompanied children and young people should not be
in detention, and that families should be moved into the community.
6. 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 the period of detention. What we have learnt
about providing services to these young people is that culturally sensitive
services staffed when ever possible by workers of the same culture is
extremely important. This work is in common with migrant and refugee
experiences generally. We would point to the need for family support
and accommodation services for these children.
3. ADEQUACY OF AND EFFECTIVENESS
OF THE POLICIES, AGREEMENTS, LAWS, RULES AND PRACTICES GOVERNING CHILDREN
IN IMMIGRATION CENTRES OR CHILD ASYLUM SEEKERS AND REFUGEES RESIDING IN
THE COMMUNITY AFTER A PERIOD OF DETENTION WITH PARTICULAR REFERENCE TO
CONDITIONS, HEALTH, EDUCATION AND CULTURE
Policies and practices
in immigration centres appear to lead to distress in children and young
people, which last long after the period of detention. This appears to
be because of general conditions of detention, lack of attention to children's
developmental needs and failure of policies to respect culture during
CASESTUDY 1: Interview with
boy aged 12, two years after detention:
What was good
about your time in detention?
The only good
thing was that I met a man who could speak my language-we used to talk,
he was very nice.
What was bad?
There was no space
to play and there were fences everywhere. I did not enjoy the food, it
had a strange colour and the chicken had its hairs still on it. Also there
was very uncomfortable. Also there was no morning or afternoon teas and
drinks. I found it hard to sleep on my bed, as it was very uncomfortable.
I was scared of the strangers who were fighting. I missed my father, relatives
and home a lot.
What did it feel
I was worried
all the time and had nightmares. I did not know if I would be able to
see my father again (father was delayed for some months before reuniting
with family). I felt like I'd been in prison and was worried about the
future. I did not know whether we could get out and have a normal life
like other children.
Do you still think
about your time in detention?
I remember. But I don't want to remember, as it makes me feel uncomfortable.
I would like to forget about it. I wish it had not happened to us.
This boy's mother
What sort of education
were the children offered?
There was English
classes available for adults and children on Mondays to Fridays from 9-11.30
and 1-2.30. There were excursions for the children every 6 weeks
What were your
main concerns for your children while being in detention?
I felt insecure
emotionally and physically. There was limited food for us and I was worried
about our health- we had very low quality of food and the place was unhygienic.
This young person's
mother was pregnant during detention and comments about support for parents
of new babies:
of maternity services
I was eight months
pregnant when I first arrived at the detention centre; a nurse was available
from morning till 4. I was taken to (a city) hospital once or twice a
week for check ups. On arrival and departure I was accompanied by two
officers, which was embarrassing as I was treated like a prisoner. They
did not provide information to me, but if I had questions or concerns
I could ask. I was taken to Fairfield Hospital only once following the
birth of my son.
4. IMPACT OF DETENTION ON
WELLBEING, HEALTH AND LONGTERM DEVELOPMENT
We would refer you
to recent work on the impact of abuse and trauma, on brain development
of children, specifically undertaken by Professor Bruce Perry. This research
is in its early stages and needs to be considered carefully in relation
to the experience of young children in detention and living with stressed
caregivers. The work on brain development provides possible understanding
of the severe behavioural and emotional conditions of young people who
have experienced high level of drama, violent environment or neglect,
well known and observed in children entering the 'care system'. Barnardos
has had more than 100 years experience of these children's severe stress
on parents so that they are unable to provide for the emotional needs
of infants and toddlers, which leads to severe long-term disruption of
healthy child development.
We have evidence
from a mother who was detained with her children, about stress:
were under a lot of stress due to sharing concerns for their father,
being in a new environment, lack of freedom, limited resources (TV,
radio, toys) and low quality food. My children used to cry, have nightmares
and were occupied with whether we were going to get our visas or get
deported. Physically they were not safe at all and I was supervising
them at all times. We were living with strangers from all over the world
and could not trust them. There were a lot of fights, violence and suicide
among the refugees as a result of being under a high level of stress.
We do not believe
that we can make more specific comments on the long-term impact of the
small children involved in this situation, however we believe that policy
should err on the side of caution in exposing children and young people
to detention - see our comments in Section 5.
Children who have
experienced detention complained specifically about the rigidity of meal
schedules, which may not suit children.
Evidence from a mother
pregnant during detention is that anti-natal care was minimally offered,
in such a way it was unlikely to have been productive. "I was
accompanied by two officers, which was embarrassing, as I was treated
like a prisoner".
5. ADDITIONAL MEASURES AND
SAFEGUARDS WHICH MAY BE REQUIRED IN DETENTION FACILITIES TO PROTECT THE
HUMAN RIGHTS AND BEST INTERESTS OF ALL DETAINED CHILDREN.
Our experience of
institutionalisation of children, who are unable to live with their parents
in the Australian community, has led us to close down all residential
facilities for young people under 15 and have children in culturally appropriate
foster families. We believe that children (0-12 years) need as normalised
a living situation as possible, that poor group behaviour is hard to contain
in a group living situation. Barnardo's does maintain a residential service
for older adolescents with particular cultural requirements, because of
the difficulty of recruiting carers able to handle difficult behaviour,
it is also more normal for older adolescents to live in "group' housing.
We would recommend
that younger children, without family or a kin group with whom they are
close, should not live in an institutional setting.
We have had experience
of children living with their family in uncertainty over where they will
live, and having come from situations of domestic violence. In working
with these families we know that the mental wellbeing of the parents is
the most important element in stabilising the child. Interviews with the
mother of the boy quoted above, indicate that parents were stressed during
We would recommend
that children under twelve, should not be in detention, even if accompanied
by their parents
If these children
are nevertheless kept in detention our recommendations are guided by our
experience of dealing with children in care and the casemanagement protocols
used to address children's developmental needs. (This is the Looking After
Children program, which was developed in the United Kingdom after extensive
research on normal child development).
It is our recommendation
that the following issue areas require active attention while in detention:
- Educational services
- Health services
- Social presentation
- Identity development
- Family and social
- Emotional and
- Self care skills
Fatima is five
(5) years old. She came to Australia with her father last August, having
left her mother and baby brother in Iran. The family could only afford
to pay the people smugglers for two (2), so it was decided Mr. J. would
come bringing his daughter, who has multiple disabilities, in the hope
of getting medical treatment for her which the family could not afford
in Iran. Iraqian people are increasingly less welcome in Iran and so there
was a real threat that Mr. J and his family would be sent back to Iraq.
Mr. J. had very valid fears should he be returned to his own country where
he had previously been imprisoned for refusing to join the army, he could
be returned to prison or even executed.
Mr. J. and
Fatima travelled across country by foot and road transport, then by plane
and boat. The boat trip was the most harrowing, as it was a small boat
with approximately one hundred and forty (140) people on board sitting
shoulder too shoulder, with very little food to eat. This part of the
journey was to last for sixty (60) hours. They arrived at Christmas Island
at 3.30am and on arrival everyone, including the children, had a number
stamped on their hand. This was how they were addressed for the next six
(6) months. All their personal belongings were taken including Fatima's
toy monkey her mother had given her. Fatima was frightened and confused
and she cried constantly.
week Mr. J. and Fatima were sent to a detention centre in X. On arrival
they were placed in a prison like room which they shared with six (6)
other people, all men. They remained in this section of the camp for six
(6) weeks. No toys or books were provided for Fatima. They were then moved
to another section of the Detention Centre were they were locked in for
two (2) weeks. At the end of this period they were allowed to go outside
to the play area, which was very hot and without shade.
ill and her father took her to the Detention's medical centre as she would
not eat and was coughing a lot. He was told just to make sure she took
fluids, after two (2) weeks she was still sick, he was then given cough
medicine. Medical staff were aware that Fatima suffered from asthma but
only after three (3) months of repeated requests by Mr. J. was he given
an inhaler/puffer so he would not have to take her back to the medical
centre for treatment, if she had an attack. When medicals for Fatima were
conducted her father requested an interpreter but was told there were
none available. Blood tests were carried out, however no results or explanation
for the tests was given. Despite the fact that doctors at the Detention
Centre noted on the medical certificates that further investigations were
necessary in order to diagnose the extent of her brain damage, there was
no medical follow-up arranged for Fatima on leaving the Detention Centre,
apart from a referral for a hearing aid for her, which was refused.
J. and Fatima were granted a Temporary Protection Visa they were taken
to Perth where they were placed in temporary accommodation with another
family. Mr. J came with Fatima to Sydney in February this year because
he had heard from a family he met in the camp that conditions were better
in Sydney with regard to work, housing and services that would assist
Fatima given her special needs.
was referred to Barnardos Auburn Childrens Family Centre, by Centrelink,
and was seen on the 4th April 2002. Barnardos is currently providing a
Family Support and Family Day Care and we continue to advocate and liase
on behalf of the family with the Department of Housing, Department of
Education and the Department of Health, all of which has been hampered
by the fact that the family only has a Temporary Protection Visa.
6. ADDITIONAL MEASURES AND
SAFEGUARDS AFTER DETENTION 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
We believe that specialised
services should be made available to house detached young people after
periods in detention. The Kingston House model has taught us a great deal
and this information should be used as a model.
Our major tasks in
trying to stabilise their behaviour relates to:
- providing accommodation
which is able to handle extremes in behaviour, and which is able to
serve as a base for ongoing support
- promoting identity
- enhancing adaptation
to Australian culture
- assistance with
- address the underlying
causes of behaviour problems such as, loss, war, torture etc.
- address health
- provide language
- integrate with
the educational system
- provide capacity
to live independently
- address legal
of our work has been based on the use of workers who have had the experience
of asylum seeking and preferably from the same cultural background as
the young people, and to have staff stability and knowledge of child development.
Kingston House was staffed with people of Indo-Chinese background (with
the exception of the Supervisor of the workers); none began with welfare
qualifications, but all studied and went on to work in welfare.
We would point our
that the refugee experience alone brings problems of psychological adjustment
 such as: trauma from witnessing violence, language
difficulties, family disruption and a sense of not being able to return
home and resulting loss and grief. The migration experience alone brings
issues of tensions between home and school values, dependency of parents
on their language skills bringing about role difficulties, discrimination
and racism, difficulties in identity and adjustment to a different culture
Two experiences with
adolescents indicate the difficulties with which these young people live
after detention, and the nature of the assistance they require.
R came to the
attention of Barnardos Adolescent Services, after being placed in a Detention
Centre. A lawyer assigned to his residency case referred him to the Program.
R was born
in Western Sahara and lived there until he was about fourteen, when he
became detached from his family. They are believed to be either dead or
in prison, and R was left to survive on the streets. R spent the next
few months living on the streets and in refuges, when he could find them.
He travelled to many cities by stowing away on trains and boats. After
he reached Rotterdam, he stowed away on a boat headed for Australia.
he was granted refugee status and placed in x detention centre. He then
met with a lawyer, who showed compassion, and felt she needed to act to
save R from being returned to his country of birth. With her assistance,
R became a protected person in August 1996, under the Children (Care and
R was then
housed by the Department of Immigration in a small unit with another young
man. This housing was available to him for a maximum of three months.
It quickly became apparent that R had huge issues to overcome. Firstly,
he did not speak any English, and the dialect he did speak was very rare
as he came from such a remote village. Secondly, R had no identification
papers, and was actually unsure of his age. (It is believed that he is
actually older than he said). Thirdly, he is a devout Muslim and finding
it very difficult living with someone who did not share, or support, his
beliefs. Finally, he was expected to find employment and alternative accommodation
within the three months.
had great difficulty in locating a translator, but eventually found one
with the assistance of SBS television. It was then that we discovered
that R was actually being physically abused by his flatmate. Barnardos
removed R from the situation and placed him in the Hohnen House residential
facility, with rotating youthworkers. R commenced intensive English lessons
with the translator.
a long time getting R registered with Centrelink due to the lack of identification.
Once his English improved, he was enrolled in an OTEN course to give him
basic literacy and maths skills (apparently R had never been to school),
of a suitable placement was still a problem, and then his lawyer and her
family offered to provide care for him, with Barnardos support. R stayed
with them for several months - this allowed him to continue his studies,
save some money, learn some living and social skills, enjoy a caring family
environment, and the family fully supported his religious beliefs.
Once R was
'on his feet' he moved into a studio flat close by to his carers. He continued
to see them regularly, and has gone onto further studies.
A young man who
is from Afghanistan was in detention for 5 months has been in Kingston
M fled Afghanistan
with his father, after selling all their possessions to move out. They
left M's mother and 5 other siblings with relatives. The experience of
fleeing Afghanistan, the loss of his mother and other family members was
compounded by the stress of detention. M has now a very poor relationship
with his father. His father has a number of short-term jobs, and has now
left M. to go fruit picking in Victoria.
M had become involved
in antisocial behaviour. M stayed in Kingston House for a number of months
he required assistance with language and orientation to Australia. He
was seriously disturbed and anti-social, demonstrating violent behaviour.
Staff needed to be very skilled to work with him.
B. was in the
detention centre at X detention centre for approximately four months.
This was the time it took for his application for refugee status to be
processed. When he was granted refugee status he was provided with housing
for a maximum of three months, with the view to be able to gain employment
and set himself up in private rental accommodation.
The main issues
for B, initially, were:
- health issues
- religious issues
- cultural issues
- identity issues
- and the very obvious language issue.
None of these
issues were dealt with while B was in detention, leaving him with the
same issues, but compounded with stress and feeling of anger and fear
at being locked up.
On leaving the
detention centre, there was an expectation that B would gain employment
and be able to support himself. After a long struggle with the bureaucratic
system, we were able to get B on a benefit. This allowed him to buy essential
items such as food and travel tickets. An interpreter was found and B
began English lessons.
B was having ongoing
conflict with the young man he had been placed with, and was becoming
involved with a group of people who were involved in drug taking. We also
became concerned that prostitution may be an issue. B was also in an abusive
situation with the young man he was sharing with, and domestic violence
was becoming a concerning issue. B was moved immediately and placed in
Hohnen House (a Barnardo's residential facility) for a short time to ensure
his safety. He was then placed with a carer in Glebe.
B always felt
that he was a 'criminal' as he had been detained against his will, and
felt that he would never be able to achieve. Our caseworkers feel that
if the identified issues had been addressed while B was in detention,
and support continued once he was set up in the unit, B's integration
would have been much easier and his chances at gaining employment or studying
would have been much higher.
believes that the experience of detention is compounding problems for
those who are ultimately being allowed to stay in Australia and may result
in a very poor capacity to adjust to Australian society.
If you require any
additional information about the material discussed in this submission,
please do not hesitate to contact me.
CEO and Director of Welfare
Enc: Kingston House
Program (extract from Guide to Welfare Services)
See Refugee Children in Canada: Searching for Identity by Anne Marie Fantino
and Alice Colak in Child Welfare Vol LXXX n 5, September-October p587
for a fuller discussion of the adjustment issues for refugee children
and young people.
Updated 9 January 2003.