Submission to National Inquiry
into Children in Immigration Detention from
Diversity Directions Inc.
We must face up to
our humanitarian responsibilities to accept refugee children and their
families. We must take them out of the immigration detention centres and
welcome them into the community where they can play, learn and grow. At
least then when our children look back on this time and ask us what we
did to stand up for refugee kids, we can say we gave them their childhood."
Inc Management Team:
Smith: BA, Dip Ed and Grad Dip Arts (Women's Studies)
Adriana Beltrame: Master of International Relations (current), Grad
Dip Soc Sc (Child Development) and Grad Dip Soc Sc (Group Work Counselling)
Christa Schlosstein: Dip Early Childhood (Munster, Germany) and Dip
Kristina Barnett: Master of Education (Early Childhood), BEd, and BSocSc
Diversity Directions is the only specialised organisation in South
Australia that advocates and works with children (0-13 years), families
and communities of diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds to enhance
their participation and equality of access in childcare services. Diversity
Directions is an incorporated not for profit, statewide community-based
organisation established in 1986. The organisation's vision is summarised
as Leadership in the provision of culturally relevant child care and community
expertise relevant for this HREOC submission
Diversity Directions has strong links to South Australian, interstate
and national early childhood education and childcare associations, particularly
those working with children and families of diverse cultural and linguistic
backgrounds. In its advocacy role, Diversity Directions has sent submissions
to government/non-government agencies and has been consulted on research
projects and policy development. These include Best Practice Principles
for Multicultural Child Care, the Managing Diversity Project (Family
Day Care); the JET DFaCS Peak Body Children's Issues and the Commonwealth
Child Care Advisory Council Child Care Beyond 2000.
is proud of its achievements in promoting human rights. This includes
resources that have been translated into various languages, such as its
Living in Harmony Project video and booklet: Let's Play Fair: a Guide
to Helping Young Children Tackle Prejudice and a pamphlet for parents
Helping Young Children Tackle Prejudice. In 2001, Diversity Directions
achieved the national 'Community Learning Leader' Award from Adult Learning
Since 2001, Diversity
Directions has been working with various advocacy and lobbying groups
to support the release of children detainees aged from birth to 18 years
held in immigration detention centres in Australia, and particularly Woomera
in South Australia. Some of these groups include the South Australian
Coalition for Refugee Children, of which Diversity Directions is an inaugural
member, World Organisation for Early Childhood Education -OMEP (Australia)
and Red Cross (SA) through its Temporary Protection Visa Project.
has primary source contact with two asylum seeker families with young
children recently released from Woomera through its bilingual Cultural
Support Workers (CSWs). These CSWs assist with the settling in of these
children into their respective childcare services and providing information
and reassurance to the parents. An interview with one family is included
in this submission
has secondary source contact and information about child asylum seekers
and/or their parent(s), through
- lobbying and
- maintaining a
Resource Folder of published local, state, national and international
articles, research documents and websites about issues connected with
immigration, particularly asylum seekers, children and families.
STATEMENT BY DIVERSITY DIRECTIONS
Diversity Directions affirms that children are entitled to the provision
of the necessities of a decent life; protection from all forms of violence
and exploitation, neglect and cruel or inhumane treatment; and participation
in the decisions that affect them and in the life of their community (The
three main categories contained in United Nations Convention on the
Rights of the Child - UNCROC).
- Child asylum seekers
or other children arriving in Australia without visas, and particularly
unaccompanied minors, should NOT be kept in mandatory detention. These
children and/or their families, provided that they do not have criminal
records, should be immediately removed from immigration detention centres.
This would enable them to: regain some family routines; benefit from
community support; decrease vulnerability whilst in detention; children
benefit from more freedom, access to education and better opportunities
for socialisation. (UNSW Centre for Refugee Research).
- Immigration detention,
by its very act of separation from society through incarceration of
a regimented nature, is not in the best interests of the child . 
- Children in detention
and their families are directly affected by Australian Immigration policies
in ways that negate widely held principles of childhood development
other western country detains children to the extent that Australia
- If children are
to be detained, it should be for the shortest possible time and as a
measure of last resort in accordance with Article 37 (b) (UNCROC) and
follow the Principles of Good Practice (Australian Early Childhood Association,
- The Temporary
Protection Visa category should be abolished and permanent protection
and asylum status be applied to refugees seeking asylum in Australia.
This is in accordance with the United Nations 1951 Geneva Convention
on Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, an agreement signed and ratified
by Australia and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article
14, UDHR). This policy has created two classes of refugees with different
entitlements and as such is discriminatory and unfair. This policy is
causing severe distress and disadvantage to children and/or their families
and to unaccompanied minors on release into the community. The policy
is placing great strain on community and state government services by
cost - shifting of service provision from the Commonwealth to the State
Governments and the community sector (Mann, 2001).
- If children and
families are to be detained, they should be placed in residential settings
that are not in remote parts of Australia, as the geographical distance
between isolated immigration detention centres is another barrier to
providing appropriate care and protection and resources for children
and/or their families (Mason, 2002).
- An independent
Commissioner for Children should be established in South Australia,
particularly to review and uphold the rights of immigrant children in
detention and residential care/custody as recommended by the United
Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 and the Convention
Relating to the Status of Refugees 1967 Protocol. It is inappropriate
that the same representative of the Crown responsible for caring and
protecting them is also responsible for detaining them.
- Children, particularly
child refugees and asylum seekers are among the most vulnerable groups
in our society and, to ensure they are not discriminated against, need
the protection of a civil society. This is even more so for these children
who have disabilities.
FOCUS OF THIS
HREOC Terms of Reference provide the framework for this submission:
- Refugee rights
& the rights of the child
- Culture &
- Health, including
mental health & development
Alternatives to detention
- Legal status
- Deprivation of
liberty & humane detention
- The conditions
under which children are detained
The number of
children in immigration detention in Australia
Between 1989 and June 1997, 763 children and 75 babies were born
in immigration detention centres and spent up to four years in immigration
As at 7 September
2001 in Australia, there were 751 children in immigration detention of
whom 640 were accompanied and 111 were unaccompanied. 
On 7 September 2001,
in the South Australian Woomera Immigration Detention Centre, there were
331 children of whom 58 were unaccompanied. 178 of these children were
male children (54 unaccompanied) and 153 were female children
(4 unaccompanied). 
The HREOC background
papers state that in Australia in November 2001, there were 582 children
in detention, 53 of them unaccompanied.
In 2000/2001, 1103
children were held in immigration detention centres in Australia of a
total number of 8401 detainees. 
As at 1 February
2002, in Woomera Immigration Detention Centre, there were 13 unaccompanied
minors in detention and 9 unaccompanied minors placed into alternative
care of the South Australian Department of Human Services provided through
Family and Youth Services. Of these children, there is one unaccompanied
minor issued with a bridging visa placed in foster care in the community.
There were about 90 unaccompanied children between 8 years and 18 years
released into the community from Woomera Immigration Detention Centre
during 2001, most of them being boys and predominantly Afghani. Of these
children, 15 live in one house with adult supervision through Anglicare.
Children up to 16 years are in foster care with 16 to 18 year olds in
independent living in rental accommodation with rent paid from their Centrelink
allowance of about $130 per week. 
As at 2 February
2002, DIMIA reports that in Australia, there are 141 female children in
Inquiries by the
National Ethnic Disability Alliance with the DIMIA indicate that approximately
4 per cent of children in detention have a disability. Types of disabilities
represented include: cerebral palsy, hearing impairment, vision impairment,
acute dwarfism, trauma, Perthes disease, cardiac, asthmatic and genetic
Annual Report (2000-2001)  , a significant reduction
in processing times was achieved, without compromising the visa processes,
At the 30 June 2000,
there were 2,075 unauthorised boat arrivals in detention awaiting decisions
from the department on protection visa applications with the average application
taking 106 days.
By 30 June 2001,
there were 1,460 unauthorised boat arrivals in detention waiting a decision
and the average age of their applications was 45 days.
A recent study published
in the Medical Journal of Australia by Iraqi medical practitioner,
Aamer Sultan, himself a detainee, found that the average detention period
at the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre was six months. For 33 long-term
detainees studied by Sultan, the average detention period was 2.1 years.
AND THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD
forms of human rights violations must be taken into consideration when
determining refugee status. Children may have the same grounds for being
recognised as refugees as adults. They might also have experienced violations
of child rights, which fall within the scope of the Refugee Convention.
These include forced recruitment into armies, female genital mutilation,
forced labour, forced prostitution and other sexual exploitation, and
forced marriage. A proper assessment
should be conducted for refugee status in cases where there are reasons
to believe that such violations have taken place. (Silove, Stel &
The United Kingdom's
Human Rights Act model should be examined and adapted to the Australian
version of Common Law and constitutional requirements. The United Kingdom
has, as Australia has not, embraced a human rights culture. Britain enacted
the Human Rights Act in 1998. For the first time in a Common Law country,
public authorities are required to comply with international human rights
obligations as a matter of law.
There is no
remedy for a breach of the UNCRC rights within Australia. It has not
been implemented through a federal statute -as for example; the Race
Discrimination Act 1975 implemented the Convention on the Elimination
of All forms of Racism. We have no bill of rights or Human Rights Act.
Nevertheless, the Common Law can be interpreted having regard to our
international human rights obligations.
(Rayner, 2001, p.4).
It is important that
children seeking asylum have their own qualified legal representation,
especially unaccompanied children, and that this representation is skilled
in the use of interpreters, is culturally aware and assists the child
to participate in the decision-making process.
Kate Halvorsen, Senior Policy Adviser, UNHCR Separated Children in Europe
Program, observed that although most countries recognise the need for
separated children to receive legal advice on asylum applications, legal
representatives are not routinely appointed. In some states they are only
appointed at the appeals stage:
of legal representation is a central concern. Sometimes lawyers are
appointed who have no prior experience in representing a separated child's
case. They may not know how to communicate with a child, how to elicit
relevant information or even the specific guidelines and rights of children
in asylum procedures. More special training and awareness - raising
needs to be done among lawyers who represent separated children.
CULTURE AND IDENTITY
Right to identity
Children in immigration
detention can undergo a negative effect when bicultural conflict occurs,
making it difficult for children who do not see themselves as belonging
to either culture (Canino et al in Barnett, 2001).
a complex matter and can have a negative or positive effect on the development
of young children depending on how they are perceived and treated by significant
others around them. The self is constructed and deconstructed according
to this reality. This can lead to culture shock when children are confronted
different from themselves, as well as confronting themselves. This can
be very stressful for the child and even more so for children in detention.
detainees are bicultural in that they are individuals learning to function
in two distinct sociocultural environments. These two environments are
that of their ethnic origin (their primary culture) and that of the Australian
immigration detention centre and, on release, that of the dominant mainstream
culture of Australian society.
in a negative isolated environment is detrimental to the developmental
of healthy biculturalism.
Having access to
the wider cultural-religious community, and family support mechanisms,
counteract any culture shock or stress when outside in the dominant mainstream
Children are generally
aware of ethnic and cultural differences between three and four years
of age. Their ethnic reference group orientation begins to emerge between
four and eight years of age. Therefore, children in detention, who do
not receive much cultural input from their parents, from other adults
and peer-groups, and are not encouraged to practise their culture, may
develop a very confused idea of who they are - their self-identity.
Ebbeck and Dyer conclude
ethnic minority groups living in two cultures, have the same needs
of most children, however, they have, in addition 'special needs' which
be catered for
(Ebbeck & Dyer,1989)
Loss of identity
Another issue that
may also contribute to a child's loss of identity is loss of nationality
rights. Children born to asylum-seekers or Temporary Protection Visa Holders
in Australia do not have the right to be registered after birth and so
do not gain Australian nationality.
In detention, confusion
can be perpetuated with incidences such as detention authorities referring
to children (and adults) by an identity number, and detainees' names being
a registered nurse who worked at the Woomera Immigration detention centre
in 2000, reported "children wear identity tags with a number and
are addressed by that number." (Australian Children's Right News,
culture, religion and language
As members of minority
groups in detention, children should be able to practise and preserve
those cultural rituals and routines that are as close as possible to the
cultural norms that their families engaged in before entering detention.
Observers who have
visited Woomera Immigration Detention Centre note that there is hardly
any attempt in the limited daily program of activities for children and
families to include their various cultural aspects. It is left to the
families to provide support with scarce resources and lack of motivation
its institutional nature must severely reduce the opportunities for
families to practise their culture and religion because they simply
do not have access to like communities, places of worship, rituals and
activities of cultural significance. (Powrie, 2002, p.7).
Sabian Mundaian child
detainees reported ongoing discrimination At Woomera Immigration Detention
Centre from non Sabian children. This was a significant and ongoing issue
for all children of this faith. In one case, the colocation of Sabians
and Muslims in one hut was identified as causing distress. The continued
children to the religious tensions that prompted their families to flee
their home countries has significant impact on these children.
(Hassan, 2002, p.2).
and pastoral care is available at the request of detainees and provided
voluntarily by a Christian priest and nun. An area is set aside as a mosque
for those of the Muslim faith. (Redman, 2002).
Language is an important
part of child development. As Clarke (1992, pp.5-6) notes
not develop in a vacuum, but in a variety of social contexts Children
acquire language in meaningful interactions with others
Sources of language for children will vary depending on cultural and
social factors Acceptance of their culture and language affects
the ability of children to develop positive feelings about their language
and family background.
Child asylum seekers,
like other bi/multilingual speakers, need to be able to develop and practise
their language(s) to develop fluency and understanding, especially to
communicate their needs and express their identity.
language has a special role as an identity formation:
role of language not only as a bridge which furthers communication with
others, but also as an identity-maker, and as a core value which symbolises
a person's belonging to one particular community.
During the time that
detainee children are in immigration detention centres, there may be pressure
to conform to the centre's culture and to acquire English as a second
language before they are developmentally ready. This pressure may continue
on release into the community as TPVs, in the new dominant culture outside
During an inspection
of Port Hedland Immigration Detention Centre, it was noted that "...children
were being acculturated into the Australian way of life and had very little
awareness of their own culture and language..."
(HREOC, 1998, in Pittaway et al, 2001, p.178).
a Mothercraft Nurse and child care worker, reported "Loudspeakers
are constant in the life of children in Australia's immigration detention
centres. Monotonous, harsh, reverberating words in a language that most
do not understand." (Highfield in Australian Children's Right News,
expression of cultural values through traditional arts, crafts, music,
oral story-telling and other forms of expression are important for children
and their families to maintain social cohesion and self-esteem. This contributes
to a healthy, holistic view of self and one's place in the world.
It would appear that
child detainees at Woomera Immigration Detention centre are not given
opportunities to express themselves through their culture within the limited
activities program there.
of food and nutrition
Observers from the SA Coalition for Refugee Children who have visited
Woomera Immigration Detention Centre have reported the following:
At Woomera Immigration Detention Centre, the guards allow requests for
some types of food that would be part of detainees' cultural diet but
this is regarded as a privilege rather than a normal occurrence.
food is prepared by strangers, not by parents, queued for and eaten on
schedule or not eaten at all. Meals are provided by detainees with cooking
experience and served in the hall en masse. No refrigeration is available
in the living quarters so no food can be kept.
- culture and language instruction
culture is passed primarily through the family with language considered
to be a powerful way of conveying culture. (Swiniarski, 1999)
It is through the
language(s) children speak that they form their sense of identity and
community and belonging.
Teresa Hutchins (1996)
notes that social referencing refers to the way in which young children
make judgements about their own safety by watching the interaction between
strangers and their parents. If the stranger and the parents are warm
and friendly to each other, the child feels reassured and is more likely
to regard the stranger as a friend. If the child senses some uneasiness
or even fear or antagonism between the parents and the stranger, the child
is likely to feel very anxious and insecure .This process, however,
is often much more difficult when the children, parents, caregivers. ..do
not share a common language and where the children and families concerned
have already experienced traumatic separations."
Children in detention
are not going to be reassured when relationships between guards and their
parents are that of captor and prisoner and there are language difficulties.
The concept of the nuclear family (mother, father, children) as the
significant family unit is a western construct that excludes the notion
of the extended family. Many of these relationships are culturally prescribed
and in many cultures 'dependency' does not stop when a child reaches 18
years of age. Refugees that have lost all family members may make new
links with significant others who are of special importance to that refugee.
However, for family
reunion, Australia's humanitarian program defines family as spouse and
dependent children (under 18), which does not take into account a refugee's
deep psychological need for family reunification. (Refugee Council of
Australia. July 2001).
pertaining to gender
An observer from the South Australian Coalition for Refugee Children,
who has visited Woomera Immigration Detention Centre, reported that women
detainees are having to conform to behaviours that are perhaps not practised
in the home country, for example, wearing of the burkar (the long enveloping
garment worn by Muslim women); the close confinement of both genders and
the lack of understanding by guards of the subtleties of cultural mores.
Hassan (2002, p.3) observed "Female adolescents from the Sabian Mundaian
religion report feeling afraid of sexual assault."
A major concern identified
in the literature review of the research paper The Experience of Refugee
Children in Detention (Pittaway et al, 2001), is the necessity for
individuals to exist in a 'confined community' with a large mix of sexes,
cultures and ages combined with high tension and stress level.
MENTAL HEALTH AND DEVELOPMENT
For a child to grow and develop normally, there are certain factors
that are recognised as critical for the healthy emotional and social development
- Recent research
in brain development provides evidence that children are born 'wired'
to learn, with the first 5 years of life being a critical period when
the brain is most receptive for appropriate stimulation and nurturing
from social environments. This early brain research confirms that the
role of carers and the care environment is important to the growth and
learning of children: how carers respond to young children and interact
with their environment affects the way the brain is 'sculpted'.
care of young children impairs their ability to regulate their emotions
and an unstimulating or emotionally and physically unsupportive
environment limits the 'sculpting' of the brain's pathways.
(Commonwealth Child Care Council, 2001, pp 34-35).
- A strong and
healthy attachment between primary care-givers (the mother, father and
extended family members) and the infant provides sensory interactions
through which the infant learns how to control distress. This assists
healthy development of emotional stability and socialisation according
to the family's cultural norms. (Powrie, 2002).
effects of institutional living in detention undermines detainee parents'
capacity to nurture their infants and young children, disrupts the development
of secure attachment relationships and compromises the parents' capacity
to care for their children. This can also lead to long-term dysfunctional
behaviour for children in their later years.
Dr Annie Sparrow,
a Perth paediatrician who worked at Woomera this year, said she had
examined a child born in detention. "I met him in August and he
was six months old," she said. When I went back in January, he
as still there with his family and he was barely able to crawl. He was
showing all the signs of a year's worth of environmental deprivation.
It is hard to convey the despair I felt when I saw this infant that
had not had the proper stimulation...it was inhumane.
(Debelle & Skelton, 2002).
An accumulation of
risk factors that threaten a child can diminish the child's capacity to
cope and lead to developmental harm. Child asylum seekers already have
experienced trauma through fleeing to Australia and then experience further
trauma during detention.
are competent children... Such children have, in one way or another,
experienced being treated with respect. That is how Australia should
treat the children in our immigration detention centres... The borders
we need to protect are around civil society, not our island continent.
(Rayner, 2001, p.10).
The Australian Early
Childhood Association's Working Position on Resiliency (2001) posits that
studies on resiliency have looked at factors which seem to separate out
the children who do well from the others from those who, with the same
risk factors, have but less positive outcomes.
Both resilience and
risk are compounded as the number of contributing factors increases.
Table 1 Factors
supporting the development of resilience in young children
Early Childhood Association's Working Position on Resiliency (2001)
The following factors
have been found to support the development of resilience in young children
and should be encouraged and supported by early childhood educators.
- A positive attachment
to their parents or main caregiver
- A positive relationship
with a primary caregiver in early childhood services or school (a significant
other, outside the family)
- An attachment
object (if the child has one)
- A sense of who
they are, their background and where they fit in the world
- No major separation
from main caregivers/parents
- Day-to-day and
- Clear rules and
- Providing a caring
and supportive environment, that includes building positive relationships
- Building positive
relationships between home and care setting/school
- Recognise and
- Having high realistic
and positive expectations of all children
- Providing opportunities
for participation, involvement and success for all children
- Provide opportunities
to foster and develop the creative gifts all children have
- Attend to emotional
development as a key to healthy independence, social competence and
It would be very
difficult to achieve these factors for rehabilitation while children and
their families were still in the immigration detention centres, particularly
if the detention period is lengthy.
There may be more
chance of rehabilitation if the children are placed in a supportive and
culturally appropriate environment with their families (or significant
others if the children are unaccompanied minors) out in the community.
The risk increases
when several adverse factors occur together.
Four or more of these
predictors at age two, lead to the most serious learning and behaviour
problems at age eighteen.
Table 2 Risk factors
-key predictors of poor outcomes for children
Early Childhood Association's Working Position on Resiliency (2001)
Predictors of Poor Outcomes for Children
The overwhelming amount of evidence supports the following factors
as generally putting children at risk of not being able to adapt to the
demands of living as they grow through childhood into young adulthood.
- Low maternal
- Low socio-economic
status, especially at birth
- Severe marital
- Large family size
- Paternal criminality
- Maternal psychiatric
- Foster home placement
or separation from main caregiver in the early years
- Moderate or greater
- Congenital defect
- Physical handicap
- Very low of high
- IQ score below
90 at age 10
- Need for special
education at age 10
- Need for more
than 6 months mental health service at age 10
- eg separation
of child from family (especially in infancy)
- Parental divorce
(especially before the age of 5)
- Physically ill
- Death of parent
For children detained
in immigration detention centres, there would appear to be a high risk
factor and therefore a negative impact on their future development.
UNDER WHICH IMMIGRANT CHILDREN ARE DETAINED
In October 1999,
a legislative amendment was proclaimed by the Australian Government to
prevent individuals from bringing their families to Australia after they
are granted refugee status. There are now more children in detention centres.
"As a direct
consequence, more men now arrive with their families by boat, so that
children arrive in ever increasing numbers".
(The Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia. Joint Standing Committee
on Immigration September 2000, p.86)
In their findings
from a research project using anecdotal evidence from people working in
direct contact with unaccompanied children and children of families in
detention in Australia, Maksimovic & Pittaway (2001) found that:
There was widespread
concern in the community that children are being detained in an environment
that is counterproductive to their well-being. The facilities, resources,
inadequate training of Australian Correctional Management (ACM) staff
and the issue of incarceration itself were re-emerging themes throughout
the research. However, a major concern identified throughout the literature
review and with several of the key service providers is the ability
for individuals to exist in a confined 'community' where there is a
large mix of cultures, ages and sexes combined with the unrelieved atmosphere
of tension and high levels of stress...
which children are forced to live during their detainment would appear
to be detrimental to their development.
(Maksimovic & Pittaway, 2001, p.27)
The Australian Commonwealth
Ombudsman' report into immigration detention centres referred to conditions
in some of these centres as like those in our prisons and recommended
that alternative accommodation be found for women and children. (Wheatley,
some immigration detention centres
Another concern is
remoteness of immigration detention centres that are isolated from urban
areas. This is seen to be a barrier to meeting children's basic needs
of health care, nutrition, education, nurturing environment, cultural
development (religious, language, customs, rituals).
Jana Mason (2002)
Some of the
organizations with official access to the detention centres told USCR
that in practice their access was quite limited, particularly to the
remote centres, given the high travel costs. One NGO with a major focus
on detention said that its staff had never been to Woomera or Curtin
because 'it's just too expensive.' In addition, they said, the procedures
and logistics mean that rarely, if ever, could an unannounced visit
(Mason, 2002, p.24)
Kosovar refugee experience
There is a striking
difference between the current Woomera facilities and services and those
provided to the Kosovar refugee children and families based at army facilities
at Greenacres, South Australia.
Australia has twice
provided temporary safe haven to the Kosovars (about 4,000 admitted between
May and June 1999) and East Timorese (about 1800 in September 1999) under
a special category of visa consisting of two subclasses: Kosovar Safe
Haven and Humanitarian Stay. This category was to give safe haven to certain
people displaced from their homelands by violence. Under this visa category,
applicants signed a declaration that they agreed to temporary safe haven
for a limited period and would leave when requested. This was a departure
from previous asylum and temporary protection policies.
One of Diversity
Directions' Cultural Support Workers was employed to support the Kosovar
children at Greenacres. The Kosovars had a playgroup, child care for children
whose parents were learning English, a bilingual school program for primary
and secondary school children, early childhood play centre for children
0-5 years and their families, trauma support and individual counselling
and regular debriefing sessions. The Kosovars received coordinated and
responsive services whilst in Australia unlike the detainees at Woomera.
There was close coordination and contact between the Kosovars and the
As Priscilla Clarke
notes (1999): "In order to support the children and families from
Kosovar, it was essential to provide a safe and nurturing early childhood
environment and for the staff employed to be sensitive, gentle and non-judgemental.
Such support will be critical in the process of rebuilding each child's
sense of self-esteem and trust."
Woomera Immigration Detention Centre
Detention Centre, a former army barracks, had its first intake of detainees
in December 1999 with over 20 babies born there and at least one child
has spent the entire 8 months of its life in detention.
The Australian Commonwealth
Ombudsman found that, up to February 2001, of the children still in detention
at Woomera Immigration Detention Centre the oldest had been there for
19 months (Wheatley, 2001, p.24 The Advertiser).
On the 16 January
2002, 14 unaccompanied minors were removed from Woomera Immigration Detention
Centre and placed in alternative care with foster families in Adelaide
because the South Australian Department of Human Services declared they
were 'at risk'.
In January 2002,
11 unaccompanied minors at Woomera Immigration Detention Centre threatened
are concerned over reports that children are being subjected to sexual
abuse in detention.
for Refugee Advocacy president Marion Le, said "There had been many
instance of sexual abuse against adults and children [In detention centres]...These
places really aren't for children."
(West Australian, 21/6/00, page 2).
Child detainees are
at the risk of physical, sexual and emotional abuse by being placed in
detention centres designed for adults with the risk being increased for
(Refugee Council of Australia, 2001)
The Memorandum of
Understanding between DIMIA and SA Department of Human Services, signed
in December 2001, sets out the powers for state welfare officers to investigate
risks to young detainees and consider recommending their release.
Other states are
expected to finalise similar agreements.
a Diversity Directions client asylum-seeker family
In April 2002, a
Cultural Support Worker from Diversity Directions interviewed a client
- an asylum seeker parent with a young child in child care. The Cultural
Support Worker has been supporting the child and the family in the child
care service. The asylum seeker parent and child were in Woomera Immigration
Following is a transcript of the interview as told to the Cultural Support
For how long were
the children/parent(s) in the detention camp?
It varies from
family to family and nationality to nationality. My family and I stayed
there for six months. There are some families who have been there for
2 years and still have to wait. They don't know when they become released
How old were the
children when they were first in detention camp?
My child was two
years old when we went to the camp, but there are some children who were
born in the camp. In short there are children from newborn baby up to
age of 15.
What is the language
and religion of your family?
My family and
I speak Farsi (Persian). There are other languages such as Arabic, Kurdish,
Turkish, Dari, Pashtoo. I am Moslim but there are Christians and Madai
(John Baptist followers) as well.
Describe how the
children/family were able to practice their religion they were in the
detention camp? Were there any barriers?
It was not band
[banned] to practice the religion but there were no facilities. For example,
if you are a Moslem and need a place to do your daily prayer it was a
special place and our room was too small.
Did you have religious
representative/s to help the children practise their religion?
There were no
religious representatives. In one occasion, ACM invited a Moslem religious
leader (Mulla) to the camp and it was when detainees had hunger strike,
and they set the building alight as a sign of protests. They invited him
to make detainees calm down, he made promise on behalf of ACM and also
give them free telephone card. He also told detainees if they don't stop,
then ACM won't give them early breakfast (Sahari) for Ramedan, when Moslems
Were the children
able to have religious instruction from their parent/s?
are free if they want to teach their children.
Were there any daily
programs in place to ensure that their language, religion, arts and traditions
of children's culture were met?
It was no such
program to cover children's religion, language, art etc needs.
Were other ethnic
communities outside able to help them?
There was no help
from outside, because of security reason no was allowed to come to the
Were the children
addressed by their correct names while in detention by guards and by others?
Every one had
a number and everyone was called by that number and it includes children.
How different was
it in the detention camp for the children compared to being in their own
home? (play, playthings, discipline, routine, language, customs, health,
clothing, stories, drawing pictures )?
It was totally
different. It was another world. It was no freedom. In one sentence I
can say it is like when you compare your home with prison. When you compare
your freedom and not behind bars with when you are in prison and behind
bars. Health: there was no dentist at all. Only one or two doctor for
the whole camp. You can imagine when you are sick and need a doctor. Children
has to wait too. They take them to the hospital if there is a emergency
case or if there is a dangerous illness which can threatened children's
What would the parent/s
liked to see improved in the detention camp for:
(a) children (b) parent/s to help their children
(a) Play equipments
are very limited, old and broken. It was only a small room where children
can play twice a week and only one hour every time. It is a big number
of children and not enough equipments. Children were not allowed to take
toys to their room to keep them busy the rest of the week. It was some
story books, but they are in English, which most families are unable to
read them. There is no facilities for drawing/painting. It was a long
waiting list. Every time we need a cloths we had to make for requests
and wait long. Cloths are all second hand and mostly in a bad condition.
(b) Freedom, no gates, no bars, no rasier wire
Anything else that
the parent/s would like to comment on concerning their children and families
during their stay in the detention camp?
in the camp will affect children physically, emotionally, psychologically.
I believe this can affect children's personility and has a long lasting
effection when they are grown ups. These memories of camp and being behind
bars will come back to them and hunt [haunt] them over and over. This
is unhealthy for them and for the society they live in.
Julie Redman, child
rights lawyer and member of the South Australian Coalition for Refugee
Children visited Woomera Immigration Detention Centre in December 2001
are growing up among depressive adults and guards. They have done nothing
wrong but they have fewer rights than the young offenders in our country.
They are denied adequate schooling, stimulation and play equipment....
Children in detention centres are deliberately deprived of nearly all
sensory stimulation. They see no animals, flowers, plants, interesting
food or even the ability to accumulate their own toys, books and games.
There is currently no visiting program for non-family members apart
from the limited number of professional people who have permission to
offer some services to the centre.
aimlessly behind the huge compound fences with not one ball or play
thing evident. I saw no children laughing or playing freely as I stood
in the administration area observing the children like I was observing
animals in the zoo. The contrast between the ways we now provide for
the animals in our own zoo in Adelaide is far superior to the facilities
provided to these families. There was not a blade of grass in sight,
the children aimlessly wandered through the dust moving slowly between
family members and groups of children.
I was further
struck by the contrast of the faces I had seen on some of the children
in refugee centres throughout the world who despite the conditions were
smiling and playing freely. The only time I saw children smiling was
when they came with their mothers to see us and had a degree of freedom
without the ever watchful eye of the ACM guards. There was a total lack
of stimulation evident in the compound that I observed from a distance.
.. The 37 unaccompanied children live in 3 of these buildings with each
cabin having 15 beds. Family groups share with other family groups,
able to keep only the minimum of personal goods...
interpreter] One 11 year old Afghani boy told me he was an orphan and
had travelled to Australia from Afghanistan via Indonesia. His extended
family had raised the money to send him to a safe place...He did not
know what was to become of him. He believed he'd been in the detention
centre for six months. He could not tell me who the migration agent
was that was assisting the processing of his application for refugee
status. He told me he spent most of his day sleeping. When asked what,
if anything, would make life better he said that he would like a soccer
ball. He told me that they do play soccer but thy have to wait for the
guards to go and play with them. They have a gaming room that does have
access to games and a ping pong table. He said that he didn't feel motivated
to lay games and did not really know what t do with the art materials...
he told me that since the Taliban came 5 years ago he had not been to
school but had studied the Koran.
registered nurse, who worked at Woomera Immigration Detention Centre for
three months, reported at that Centre:
- There are no
- Air conditioning
ineffective when temperatures are up to 48 degrees centigrade in summer
- Smaller rooms
sleep four people in double bunks with little floor space between bunks
- Sheets are curtains
between each family area for privacy. There are no keys to doors
- Life is regimented
for detained children (random head counts occur at any time of day or
night when a siren is sounded)
- A uniformed guard
controls access to issuing daily requirements and household items
- Detained children
have to play quietly on the barren ground
- Education focuses
on English language classes and often English-speaking detainees teach
the material. Attendance is not compulsory
- There is no formal
curriculum with approval from DETE so education effectively interrupted
for duration of detention.
(Australian Children's Rights News, 2001, p.1)
a Mothercraft Nurse and experienced child care worker, who worked at Woomera
Immigration Detention Centre, observed:
- There is a lack
of flexibility with meal times, causing children to wake hungry in the
- There is a lack
of stimulation and organised activities for children
- These children
are suffering loss of country, loss of culture, loss of unconditional
love of extended family
- Instead they
are part of a forced, closed community forming attachments to unrelated
- "A detainee
told me how his 3 -year old son had made relationships, only to enter
a deep sense of grieving every time one of them was released or moved
to another facility."
- There is inadequate
playground equipment exposed to extreme temperatures and no' soft-fall'
- No state pre-school
or long day care in Australia would be allowed to operate under these
(Australian Children's Rights News, 2001, p.10)
From the Law Society
of Australia's Children, asylum and detention- is this the Australian
Way? Workshop Summary 30/6/2001, workshop participants were told of
these conditions at Woomera Immigration Detention Centre:
The story of one
woman with three children in detention in Woomera was recounted. She alleges
that her children are too cold to sleep at night and scream with cold.
She is not allowed to contact her husband in Australia by telephone and
has been presented in handcuffs for a meeting with lawyers.
Tirana Hassan reports
on visits to Woomera Immigration Detention Centre by a legal team in January
and February 2002 that focused on children's issues. A number of families
with children were interviewed and a detailed evaluation of daily life
indicated common concerns. Most concerns have been raised repeatedly in
the past and reflect ongoing issues with conditions at the camp:
Children between 5 and 11 are now able to go to school in Woomera
Township for three hours per day four days per week. As at 11 February
2002 91 children in this age group were attending school. Tuition focuses
on English as a Second Language, but there is also some mathematics, Australian
studies, and organised play both indoors and outdoors. Three or four age
specific classes are run each half day. There are also fortnightly visits
to the swimming pool (on Friday's) and on alternate fortnights, another
activity is arranged. Schooling is carried out by qualified teachers,
with the assistance of detainee teachers, who receive some training.
were very positive about this initiative. It needs to be emphasised that
this initiative only started in January 2002. Prior to that date schooling
was far more limited and did not involve children going off site.
Teenagers interviewed by the legal team uniformly reported high
levels of boredom, depression, and lack of motivation. No formal schooling
is available for teenagers, however they may access 2 ½ hours of
ESL tuition per day, four days per week, which includes one hour computer
time. There are currently 31 male and 7 female adolescents in the camp,
with 17 computers available for their use for one hour per day. Attendance
is uniformly low. This is attributed to depression and lack of motivation
by ACM program organizers. Adolescents are also able to access fortnightly
visits to the pool in Woomera, although the females do not accompany males
and will instead participate in activities arranged for the housing project.
Adolescents may also access programming available for adults (ESL and
computer access). Other activities for teenagers involve gardening, mural
An issue is that
all adolescents interviewed expressed extreme distress at not being able
to access education and activities. They complained of depression and
lack of motivation. Involvement in adult activities was rare. Adolescents
expressed the feeling that "there was nothing to do" and that
this was a significant issue for them. Some of them reported that when
they first came here they were keen to be involved but as time passed
and / or they were rejected, they became too depressed to participate.
There is a kindy in Main Compound open for free play between 10
- 12, and 2 - 5, with a resident (detainee) schoolteacher in charge. In
November there is free access to for 1-½ hours to toys, and in
India block, kinder gym is being introduced. The latter two are recent
Numbers in the centre have decreased significantly, and there
have been improvements in the educational opportunities for children under
12. The outside schooling is a positive step. The quality and duration
of that education will need to be monitored.
Adults who speak
English are generally critical of the English lessons available for adults
and adolescents, and the level of English comprehension is very low. Some
adults are also critical of the level of education offered to children,
saying that it is not proper school and they are not learning anything.
(It is noted that the expectation of international law is for schooling
to be of the same standard as is available in the host country, and that
is clearly not occurring).
The overall impression
is one of despondency, depression, sense of loss, and lack of motivation
for older children. Younger children are less able to articulate their
feelings, but it is clear that he environment is in no way reflective
of "normal" existence, although some steps forward have been
made this year, in the form of outside schooling. Children feel that they
are in prison.
Hassan report continued:
Social and sporting
Impromptu ball games are available at any time. A soccer pitch
and a volley ball pitch are currently under construction. Matches are
occasionally organized. Although ACM report that children regularly participate
in these, most children interviewed do not refer to these activities.
It is understood that they are organized on an occasional basis and do
not form a regular activity.
children interviewed reported having no friends in the camp, and having
no social life. They report spending day after day doing nothing but moving
from meal to meal, lying on their bunks, occasional English lessons. In
Main compound there are two TV's with videos, in other compounds there
is a TV in each living unit and videos are available. However many children
do not comment on this as a feature of their day and clearly do not see
it as an activity.
The overwhelming statement made by children was the sense of being
in prison, and craving freedom. Older children were not able to identify
any activity or improvement that would make life more bearable, simply
wanting to be free. It is clear that the physical nature of the detention,
and the boredom, are an overwhelming issue for these children.
Conditions continue to be cramped, although less so than last
year. Access to and the state of toilets and showers is a common cause
of complaint, with children suffering the same privation as adults in
day to day matters such as hygiene, food, facilities. There is no privacy.
They have nothing
to do. Older children report spending the day doing nothing.
The ACM activities officer acknowledges that apart from the school, participation
in activities is very low. She commented that participation would be very
high on intake, but would deteriorate to very low levels, as a consequence
of depression and the time taken to process visas.
The perception of being imprisoned is an overriding factor in
the minds of children interviewed. Whilst significantly greater access
to relevant and varied education, activities, social opportunities, and
the opportunity to engage in normal family life and activities are desperately
needed, the perception of imprisonment and the yearning for freedom is
a key issue for every child
Ombudsman's report into immigration detention centres has likened conditions
in some centres to those in prisons. The report says women and children
are at risk in centres and recommends that alternative accommodation is
'The loss of liberty
and personal freedom associated with detaining persons in a secure institution
is akin to the prisoners held in prisons' wrote Acting Ombudsman, Oliver
criminals who have been extended the full protection of the law...immigration
detainees appear to have lesser rights." (Wheatley, 2/3/2001, The
'reception centre' system
Grant Mitchell spent two years from 1999 working at the Swedish Immigration
Department and Carslund Detention Centre. He reports that the Swedish
Model solves the problem of having children and families in detention;
treats detainees respectfully; is successful in reducing incidence of
riot and disturbances and has a positive effect on level of voluntary
repatriations on negative decisions. This has led to Sweden having lowest
number of illegal immigrants in the community in Europe. Children are
never held in detention for more than 6 days. All detainees have one caseworker
for the duration of their stay. In all, but extreme cases, families are
released into the community under supervision. If husbands are held in
detention, with wives and children released into group homes outside detention
centre and they are allowed visits during the day. (Mitchell, March 2001,
Millbank (2001) observes that many European countries, including Sweden,
have identity card systems that make asylum seekers much easier to track
in the community. Without such identification or residency papers, gaining
access to services or lawful employment is not possible, and apprehension
One of the main differences
between the Swedish and Australian immigration detention systems is that
it is against Swedish law to detain children for longer than a maximum
of three days. (Millbank, 2001, p.1).
The average time
spent in detention varies between two weeks and two months compared with
an average of 6 months in Australian detention centres. However, there
is no maximum period, and rejected asylum seekers, whose deportations
cannot be implemented due to conditions in their home countries, can face
lengthy detention, as in Australia.
Despite having more
than twice as many asylum seekers per capita as Australia, fewer people
are detained because detention is mainly used at the end of the refugee
determination process to ensure departure. In 2000, there were an estimated
17,000 asylum seekers in Sweden: the combined capacity of Sweden's four
detention centres is 120. Compare this with Australia's total of 637 in
mainland detention centres as at February 2002 (DIMIA, 2002, p.2).
provided for needy asylum seekers in 'reception' or 'investigation' or
'transit' centres in the form of self-contained flats or boarding-house
type housing. Staying in government-provided centres while claims for
refugee status are assessed is not compulsory; asylum seekers are encouraged
to move into the community, especially if they have relatives or friends
in Sweden. In 2000, approximately 10, 000 out of the 17, 000 asylum seeker
population lived outside the detention centres. Asylum seekers who wait
over four months for a decision may be granted permission to work. According
to the UNHCR, however, few find it. (Millbank, 2001, p.1).
" The Group
Mitchell (Mitchell, March 2001) describes the Group Home Model, which
is quite common in Sweden, being used for children and mothers released
from detention, as well as for others in the general population with disabilities,
drug rehabilitation and for juvenile justice. Upon the family being signed
into the detention centre, discussions take place with the parents, outlining
their rights (including the right to appeal) and explaining the detention
procedure in relation to children and the family. It is explained that
the father will be held in detention while the mother and children will
be released into a group home until the father's identity can be confirmed,
or appeal is won. The parents are assured by the Immigration Department
that they will be kept regularly informed about their case. The mother
is reassured that she will have visitation rights and regular telephone
access. In most cases, even though it can be a distressing time for the
family, the parents would rather the family split than their child be
held detention for an extended period.
In cases where there
is only a father and child, and the father will not be released on compliance
because of extreme reasons, the child will usually be released into a
group home for unaccompanied children with regular access to the father.
Mitchell reports that this never happened during his time at the centre.
Group homes are normally
supervised and there is access to counselling, information, legal advice
and recreation. All those who live in the group homes are involved in
preparing food for their meals. Regular group meetings with consensus
deciding all issues are held. Translators via the phone are available.
trial of alternative detention arrangements for women and children DIMIA
began a trial in early August 2001of alternative detention arrangements
for women and children from Woomera Detention Centre involving a maximum
of 25 volunteers permitted to live in houses in Woomera Township. The
women and children were required to have a family member (usually the
husband/father) remain in the detention centre. They undergo health
assessments and are considered 'no character or management risk.' Participants
in the trial are under 24-hour supervision by ACM officers, which includes
accompanying them outside the perimeter of the house and the yard. Visits
to the main immigration detention centre are arranged and groceries
supplied. The trial began with five women and children who moved from
the detention centre to a cluster of four three-bedroom house leased
from the Defence Department. (Mason, 2002, p.25)
Some refugee and
human rights groups criticized the trial program for failing to respect
the principle of family unity. The Refugee Council of Australia said "it
gave children two unacceptable options: whether to remain in the immigration
detention centre or be separated from their fathers." (Mason, 2002)
1989: Sack, 1995: Savin, 1996 in Barnett, 2001) on children of refugees
prove that separation is detrimental to these children's health and they
need a continuous relationship and parental bonding. Allodi's research
(1989) into the psychological well being of children shows that they have
less suffering if they stay with their parents even though the conditions
may be stressful and dangerous.
" All families
with young children in one urban-based reception centre model Archbishop
Ian George, Chair of the Christian World Service Commission of the National
Council of Churches in Australia stated "One compromise solution
put up by the churches could be to put all families with young children
in one urban-based reception centre, fast-track their applications for
refugee status, and make sure that centre has proper services and facilities
to meet early childhood needs and offers proper protection."
(National Council of Churches media release 2000).
Choice of models
believes that the continuum below represents the range of choices, described
in this submission, of models for immigration detention for children and
their families. It may be that there is no one sole model that best suits
the needs of children in immigration detention. It may be that the Australian
Government needs to provide a range of models to meet various needs.
Whatever the choice
of models, there needs to be consideration given to locating these models
in urban centres so that appropriate government, non-government and community
supports can be given.
Any models for immigration
detention for children and their families need to serve the best interest
of the child and be least like a prison and more like a home.
Continuum of choice
of models (Barnett, 2002)
- Australia's current
policies on immigration are imposing conditions on immigrant children
that would not be tolerated for our own Australian children. Child protection
authorities would have strong grounds to intervene if Australian parents
were to hold their children prisoners, refuse to send them to school
and subject them to psychological harm and witness violence.
- Children in Australian
immigration detention are being denied their right to be children. They
are denied their right to security, good health, to learn, to make friends
and to play. They need access to education, health care, and have a
right to live with their families and be reunited with them when separated.
They are entitled to a safe environment, free of fear and intimidation
- Children who are
asylum seekers have not committed a crime. They have no options but
to face life in conditions akin to prison but not knowing, unlike other
prisoners in Australian jails, the limit of their detention. They are
at risk of abuse, living with traumatized people, deprived of contact
with the outside world.
- Continued long-term
detention of young children and their families cannot be justified on
any humanitarian grounds. This policy of detaining child asylum seekers
contradicts contemporary thinking in human rights and civic freedom,
which Australia, as a democracy, professes to practise.
- Child asylum seekers
and their families must be moved as soon as possible into the community
with appropriate support networks and services and not kept in detention.
The impact of living in an institutionalised, desensitising environment
of immigration detention centres compounds existing and future health
issues and jeopardises future prospects of re-settlement.
- From the evidence
presented in this submission, as well as other submissions sighted (the
South Australian Coalition for Refuge Children; Draft Report for AMCO
- condition of children in detention at Woomera IRPC, April 2002; The
Young Women's Christian Association and the Australian Association for
Infant Mental Health), it would appear that there may be some discrepancy
in what DIMIA states that it provides and what happens in reality.
For example, from
the DIMIA Website - Information Resources, March 2002, Women and Children
in Immigration Detention:
"The IDS outline the quality of life expected in immigration detention
centres and take into consideration individual needs such as the gender,
culture and age of the detainees."
In particular, emphasis
is placed on the sensitive treatment of the detention population, which
may include torture and trauma sufferers, family groups, children and
the elderly, persons with fear of authority, and persons who are seeking
to engage Australia's protection obligations under the refugee Convention.
The Department and
ACM fully appreciate that immigration detainees are in administrative
detention and not a correctional setting "
"The Department is committed to ensuring that children held in immigration
detention receive appropriate care "
- Ensure Principles
of Good Practice are carried out in detention centresIn all
matters connected with children in immigration detention, UNHCR Principles
of Good Practice should be enacted:
1. Best interests
In all actions concerning children in immigration detention, the
human rights of the child, in particular his or her best interests are
to be given primary consideration
Children in immigration detention are entitled to the same treatment
and rights as other Australian children.
3. Family unity
Preserving and restoring family unity are of fundamental concern.
4. Family support
Actions to benefit children in immigration detention should be directed
primarily at enabling their primary caregivers to fulfil their principal
responsibility to meet their children's needs.
5. Family participation
Where the special needs of children in immigration detention can
only be met effectively through child-focussed activities, these should
be carried out with the full participation of their families and communities.
6. Separated children
Unaccompanied children in immigration detention must be the particular
focus of protection and care.
7. Cultural support
The provision of childcare, healthcare and education for children
in immigration detention should reflect their linguistic and cultural
Families in immigration detention should be provided with suitable
interpreters who speak their preferred language whenever they are interviewed
or require access to services.
Care must be taken to maintain the confidentiality of information
provided by children in immigration detention. There should be no disclosure
or information that could endanger or compromise the child's family in
Australia or his or her home country. Information must not be used inappropriately
for purposed other than that for which it is sought.
10. Staff training
Those working with children in immigration detention should receive
appropriate training on the needs of these children.
That the treaty
provisions of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child
1989 be incorporated into Australian domestic law
Although the Australian
Government has ratified the Convention, this does not mean that its provisions
are enforceable in law.
The Convention applies
to every child in Australia regardless of nationality or immigration status
and regardless of how the child arrived in Australia.
Under the Convention,
children in detention have the right to:
- family life, and
to be with their parents unless separation is in their best interests.
- the highest attainable
standard of health.
- protection from
all forms of physical or mental violence, sexual abuse and exploitation.
They also have the right to recover and be rehabilitated from neglect,
exploitation, abuse, torture or ill-treatment, or armed conflicts.
- to practise their
culture, language and religion.
- to rest and play.
- to primary education,
and different forms of secondary education should be available and accessible
to every child.
- appropriate protection
and humanitarian assistance as an asylum seeker or refugee.
- not be deprived
of their 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.
- be treated with
humanity and respect for their inherent dignity and in a manner which
takes into account their age.
- access to legal
assistance and the right to challenge their detention.
- not be subjected
to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
- a standard of
living adequate for physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.
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