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Commission Website: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention

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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."

(Calvert, 2001).


Diversity Directions

Inc Management Team:

  • Editing

    and contributions:

    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


  • Writer

    and researcher:

    Kristina Barnett: Master of Education (Early Childhood), BEd, and BSocSc


About Diversity

Directions Inc
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


Experience and

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.

Diversity Directions

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.

Diversity Directions

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

Diversity Directions

has secondary source contact and information about child asylum seekers

and/or their parent(s), through

  • lobbying and

    advocacy networks

  • 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.


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).

Diversity Directions

believes that:

  • 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 . [1]

  • Children in detention

    and their families are directly affected by Australian Immigration policies

    in ways that negate widely held principles of childhood development

    [2] and various conventions [3]. No

    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.


The following

HREOC Terms of Reference provide the framework for this submission:

  • Refugee rights

    & the rights of the child

  • Culture &


  • Health, including

    mental health & development

  • Education

    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

detention centres.

As at 7 September

2001 in Australia, there were 751 children in immigration detention of

whom 640 were accompanied and 111 were unaccompanied. [4]

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). [5]

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. [6]

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. [7]

As at 2 February

2002, DIMIA reports that in Australia, there are 141 female children in

detention .[8]

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

disabilities .[9]

Processing times
From DIMIA's

Annual Report (2000-2001) [10] , a significant reduction

in processing times was achieved, without compromising the visa processes,

through streamlining.

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.




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 &

Mollica, 2001)

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:

The quality

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.

(Halvorsen, p.3)


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).

Biculturalism is

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

by others

different from themselves, as well as confronting themselves. This can

be very stressful for the child and even more so for children in detention.

Child immigration

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.

Keeping children

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


Children of

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


Barbara Rogalla,

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,

2001, p.1)

Preservation of

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

through depression.

Detention, by

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

exposure of

children to the religious tensions that prompted their families to flee

their home countries has significant impact on these children.

(Hassan, 2002, p.2).

Spiritual support

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

Language does

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.

Smolicz confirms

language has a special role as an identity formation:

The special

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

the centres.

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).

Trish Highfield,

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,

2001, p.10).

Communication through

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.

Cultural aspects

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.

Child detainees'

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.

Special needs

- culture and language instruction
A child's

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.

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.

Cultural understanding

of family
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).

Cultural aspects

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.




For a child to grow and develop normally, there are certain factors

that are recognised as critical for the healthy emotional and social development

of children.

  • 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).

The accumulative

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 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.

Resilient children

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

The Australian

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

    special rituals

  • Clear rules and


  • Providing a caring

    and supportive environment, that includes building positive relationships

    with children

  • Building positive

    relationships between home and care setting/school

  • Recognise and

    value diversity

  • 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

    higher intelligence

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

The Australian

Early Childhood Association's Working Position on Resiliency (2001)

Risk factors

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.

Caregiving environment:

  • 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

    perinatal distress

  • Congenital defect
  • Physical handicap


  • Very low of high

    infant activity

  • 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

Cumulative stressful

life events

  • 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.



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...

The conditions

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,


Isolation of

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)

notes that:

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)

Comparison with

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."

Conditions at

Woomera Immigration Detention Centre

Woomera Immigration

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


Refugee advocates

are concerned over reports that children are being subjected to sexual

abuse in detention.

Independent Council

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

unaccompanied minors.

(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.

Interview with

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

Detention Centre.

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

if ever.

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

are fasting.

Were the children

able to have religious instruction from their parent/s?

Families themselves

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


Transcript continued:

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?

Keeping children

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

and reported:

Child detainees

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.

Children wandered

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...

[Through an

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.

Barbara Rogalla,

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)

Trish Highfield,

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

    pre-dawn hours

  • 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:

Education: Pre

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.

Families interviewed

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.

Education: Adolescent
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.

Education: Pre

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


Education Summary
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.

Most adolescent

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.

Living conditions
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

The Commonwealth

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


"However, unlike

criminals who have been extended the full protection of the law...immigration

detainees appear to have lesser rights." (Wheatley, 2/3/2001, The

Advertiser'. P.24)




" Sweden's

'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,


However, Adrienne

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

is easier.

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).

Accommodation is

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

Home Model-Sweden

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.

" Woomera

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)

Studies (Allodi,

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

Diversity Directions

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)

Continuum of choices 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:

Page 1

"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…"

Page 2

"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 centres
    In 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

2. Non-discrimination
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


8. Interpretation

Families in immigration detention should be provided with suitable

interpreters who speak their preferred language whenever they are interviewed

or require access to services.

9. Confidentiality
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.

  • privacy.
  • a standard of

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


1. As

set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CROC)

1989, ratified by Australia (Dec 1990) in Human Rights Brief No.1

2. Global Guidelines for Early Childhood Education and

Care in the 21st Century, OMEP (World Organization for Early Childhood


3. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights; United Nations Convention on

the Rights of the Child 1989


5. Refugee Council of Australia

6. Defend Children's Human Rights-Fact Sheet, Amnesty

International Australia

7. ibid









Australian Children's

Rights News, Issue Number 28, March 2001.

Australian Early

Childhood Association, 2001, 'Principles of Good Practice' (adapted from

UNHCR and International Save the Children Alliance), draft position paper

on children of asylum seekers.

Australian Early

Childhood Association, Working Position on Resiliency, 2001.

Barnett, Kristina,

2001, 'A Fair Go? (unless you are the child of an asylum-seeker in Australia)'

article in Australian Early Childhood Association (SA) newsletter.

Barnett, Kristina,

2001, "Biculturalism"- a course paper prepared for the Masters

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Updated 9 January 2003.