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Submission to the National

Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention from

the Australian Association

of Social Workers (AASW)


Terms

of Reference;

The

mandatory detention of child asylum seekers and other children arriving

in Australia without visas and alternatives to their detention.

The

adequacy and effectiveness of policies, agreements, laws, rules and

practices governing children in immigration detention or child asylum

seekers and refugees residing in the community after a period of detention.

The

impact of detention on the well being and healthy development of children,

including their long-term development.

The

additional measures and safeguards which may be required in detention

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

children.

The

additional measures and safeguards which may be required to protect

the human rights and best interests of child asylum seekers and refugees

in the community after a period of detention.

General

Comments;


Dr. Sev Ozdowski

Human Rights Commissioner

National Inquiry into children in immigration detention

Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

GPO Box 5218

Sydney, NSW, 1042

26th April, 2002

Dear Dr. Ozdowski,

Please find attached

the Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW), West Australian Branch

response to the National Inquiry into children in immigration detention.

The AASW is the professional social work body in Australia representing

6000 members nation wide and nearly 900 members in Western Australia.

The AASW/WA has long

been aware and concerned over the conditions children face in Australia's

various immigration detention facilities.

This response has

been developed in consultation with AASW/WA members who have particular

expertise and knowledge of children in detention, as well as various non-government

agencies in the state who have working knowledge of the issue.

The Association would

hope that the National Inquiry's findings and evaluations will encourage

further development in services and service delivery to ensure that the

best interests of the child are always maintained.

Yours Sincerely,

Dr. Barbara Meddin,

MAASW, Acc SW

President


Terms

of Reference;

1. The provisions

made by Australia to implement its international human rights obligations

regarding child asylum seekers, including unaccompanied minors.

The AASW/WA believes

that children in detention are already traumatized by events in their

homelands and the detention of these children in Australia is an additional

systemic abuse. The Australian government perpetuate this abuse through

reported conditions children face in detention centres and the government's

lack of willingness to acknowledge the situation with the hope of some

level of change.

The Association has

received various reported examples of current living conditions and processes

within detention facilities;

a) Meals are at

set times and food for snacks is only accessible at set times. There

is no flexibility for young, tired children and this can mean that they

go without meals on some occasions.

b) Clothes - Individual

clothes are taken away on arrival at detention facilities. People often

have just one outfit to wear. Mothers who are breast-feeding are in

particular need a change of clothes. This action promotes the dehumanisation

of people in the centres and a great loss of their individuality.

c) Blankets - Young babies do not have sufficient blankets to stay warm.

d) Toys/educational materials - Sufficient materials are not available

and there is no reported presence of mandatory or suitable play areas.

e) Staff are not necessarily cross culturally trained. It is reported

that staff can show favoritism to certain families and not to others.

The reported use of keys to open and close doors also leads to the prison

and institutional like environment.

f) Counsellors - Specific qualifications and the level of counsellor

training for working with migrant children in detention is unclear.

g) Legal - Lack of information regarding the legal structure in Australia

and lack of access for all to legal representation. It also appears

that detainees are not kept appraised of where their particular applications

are up to which contributes to heightened frustration and anxiety.

h) Information /phones - Very limited access to phones and often lack

of awareness as to the whereabouts of other family members here in Australia.

i) Living conditions

- Reported to be cramped with little privacy and families separated

on occasion. Very little shade at Woomera (50 degrees at times) which

can result in sunburn and dehydration and the glare can have long term

effects on eyesight. It has been reported that at the Curtin facility

head counts occur where people are checked at all times of the day and

night. These visits are unannounced and create an atmosphere of violence

which children witness.

j) Medical checks - It is unclear if normal developmental checks are

carried out as a matter of course. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is

reported to be misdiagnosed as psychiatric depression.

k) Individuals have reported that whilst in detention, they were referred

to as a number, not by name. This can only lead to offend the inherent

dignity of any human when subjected to such treatment for an extended

period of time. It also conjers up the treatment holocaust victims received

at the hands of Nazi's over half a century ago.

The effect of "number

calling" on developing personalities and the social, psychological

and emotional function of growing children cannot be underestimated. One

teenage boy, who arrived as an unaccompanied minor from Afghanistan in

1999, recounted the fear he felt during his time in detention, and the

'punishment' people endured if they did not respond to their 'number'

being called over the loudspeaker. This punishment may include being restricted

to certain areas of the detention facility, or being excluded from certain

leisure or educational activities.

2.

The mandatory detention of child asylum seekers and other children arriving

in Australia without visas and alternatives to their detention.

The relevant treaty

with respect to mandatory detention of either accompanied or unaccompanied

minors is the Convention on the Rights of the Child, articles 37(b) and

37(c) which includes the need to treat child asylum seekers with the "needs

of persons for his or her age". The AASW/WA believes the current

treatment of child asylum seekers in detention is a violation of the Convention

to which Australia is a signatory to.

However, the reported

experience of many children seeking asylum in Australia, whether together

with their parents and/or other family members, or unaccompanied, is the

deprivation of their liberty for an indefinite period of time within a

government funded detention centre.

The detention of

children in this instance is not being used as a measure of "last

resort" and it has been reported that many children have remained

in detention for over six months. The uncertainty faced by refugees during

flight is thus prolonged once they arrive in Australia.

The best rights of

the child are not being considered with the current system of detention

in Australia. There are very real and serious concerns about the trauma

detention is causing children. Prolonged detention with only basic and

poor living requirements is depriving children with "the humanity

and respect" they need to develop into full-functioning adult.

An alternative to

detention for unaccompanied minors may be maintaining these children in

adequately supported accommodation. Ideally this may include children

staying with extended family or staying within their own cultural group

in a foster care type arrangement. The child's wishes should always be

taken into account with family reunion being the primary goal.

3.

The adequacy and effectiveness of policies, agreements, laws, rules and

practices governing children in immigration detention or child asylum

seekers and refugees residing in the community after a period of detention.

The issue of unaccompanied

minors remains are priority concern. Children as young as thirteen years

can be without a trusted adult and without protection. To date, the AASW/WA

understands that the Department of Community Development have not had

contact with any or very limited contact with children within the detention

centres. This problem of state versus federal jurisdiction must be resolved.

The AASW/WA also

understands that in Western Australia on their release from detention

children are placed in houses of up to approximately four people without

foster parents. The roles of the Department of Community Development and

the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs are still being

negotiated whilst the unacceptable situation these children face is progressing

with no appropriate controls.

The Association has

been notified that currently the majority of unauthorised asylum seekers

attempting to enter Australia are being sent to the Pacific Islands. There

has been a reported decline in referral numbers from DIMA to one of the

regional Department of Community Development offices. The implications

of this diversion are very serious particularly for unaccompanied minors

who have no suitable guardians or carers, no access to legal services

and no hope of protection from a child protection authority.

There is also the

unique situation of unaccompanied refugees and the complex settlement

problems they face as a result of being issued with Temporary Protection

Visas (TPV).

Children issued with

a TPV are excluded from accessing the Intensive Language Centres (ILCs)

which provide specialised English tuition from highly?trained professionals

to other newly arrived children of migrants or refugees.

Those who have been

granted permanent residence in Australia are entitled to 12 months enrolment

at an ILC if it has been assessed that their English skills are insufficient.

Many refugee children have had disrupted or non?existent education, thus

the new school environment may be alienating to them, and the ILCs provide

a smooth transition into mainstream schooling.

Those children holding

a TPV are also excluded from attending the English as a Second Language

(ESL) classes that operate out of some public and private high schools.

Thus, it is very difficult to provide these children with the English

skills needed to function in Australian society.

Whilst difficult

to measure, there are obvious social costs as a result of not being able

to communicate in the language spoken in one's country of residence. Given

that most of the children have a very limited grasp of English, difficulties

will arise on a daily basis due to the language barrier.

4.

The impact of detention on the well being and healthy development of children,

including their long-term development.

The AASW/WA is aware

that there are many incidents of people presenting with depression and/or

post traumatic stress disorder following the experience of detention.

This exacerbates any previous trauma and undermines trust in the equity

and safety of the Australian system.

Some children have

been known to self-harm following their experiences in detention and/or

to "act out "in school. Family relationships can be severely

damaged by the perceived breach of trust of the parent.

In term of psychological

effects there are reports of developmental delays, behavioural problems,

withdrawing, depression, "acting out", aggression, bed-wetting,

grinding teeth, nightmares and twitching. Children are in limbo when they

most require structure and boundaries for healthy development.

There are significant

changes in family dynamics that often undermines the parental role. Breaches

of trust between child and parent are common as well as children supporting

parents their parents in detention. This swap in roles creates a situation

where children are faced to act beyond their age appropriate development.

5.

The additional measures and safeguards which may be required in detention

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

children.

It is a matter of

great urgency that the camps be made accessible to representatives of

health, mental health, legal, child protection, education services and

human rights observers who can report openly on the conditions they find,

and make recommendations to address those situations that violate the

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as they pertain to children in

detention.

More specifically,

a) Children must

not be detained in prison like environments.

b) The best interests of the child must always be maintained. If continued,

children in detention must have representatives available and accessible

to them who promote their safety and a nurturing environment.

c) Staff need to be cross culturally trained.

d) Counsellors must possess suitable qualifications and trained to be

working with children

e) Legal - Readily available information regarding the legal structures

in Australia and access for all to legal representation. Lawyers need

to train to work with children.

f) Information /phones - Access to phones an information as to the whereabouts

of other family members here in Australia. More efforts needed to link

families together across Australia.

g) Living conditions - Overall improvement including suitable play equipment

and materials for children. The frequency and availability of education

must also be examined.

6.

The additional measures and safeguards which may be required to protect

the human rights and best interests of child asylum seekers and refugees

in the community after a period of detention.

It is estimated that

the majority of refugees who enter Australia have suffered some form of

torture. Unaccompanied refugee children are particularly emotionally vulnerable

without the support of their family, and some may have witnessed their

parent's torture or death. It is also possible that they themselves have

been victims of rape or sexual assault during their escape. Torture is

both physical and psychological, so victims may have both visible and

invisible scars.

It is important that

service providers who are their guardians, are aware of the lingering

effects of trauma, and how this may affect their settlement experience.

The condition of uncertainty and doubt about the future faced by teenagers

with a TPV can do a great deal of psychological and social harm. The stability

and increased access to services that a permanent visa would supply could

improve their psychological well being dramatically.

Adjustment, stress and anxiety disorders may be prevalent amongst this

group and mental health services need to be accessible to these teenagers

so that treatment and support can be managed appropriately. When these

children are the holders of TPV's they are ineligible to access to migrant

resource centres that would provide specialist referral services to ensure

appropriate mental health services are accessed.

In addition, TPV

holders are also denied assistance with language training frustrating

their ability to seek this type of support.

If unaccompanied

refugee minors are viewed as future citizens, then structures and supports

are needed to reduce these negative psychological and social effects of

trauma for the benefit of Australian society at large. Given that a source

of instability and insecurity is lack of a national identity, the TPV

given to these teenagers can only compound these effects.

If a TPV was granted

in the case of unaccompanied minors, access to reunification should be

given on arrival and would enable these refugees a chance of benefiting

from the care and protection of a family member.

General

Comments;

  • The UN Convention

    on the Rights of the Child set the standard for civilized and humane

    societies in the treatment of their children. The human rights of children

    in detention are clearly being violated in Australia today.

  • The UN Convention

    on the Rights of the Child sets the minimum standards of care for children

    in detention and Australia has an international and humanitarian responsibility

    to provide this minimum standard of care as a signatory to the Convention.

  • The experience

    of detention often is perceived by immigrants as a repetition of the

    previous experience in the country of origin. Detention can be just

    as traumatising as experiences in own country.

  • Children have

    no comprehension of the purpose of detention although they experience

    its effects and this often undermines parental promises of escaping

    to safety.

Reported case

examples of families' experience in detention centres;

The following scenarios

are reported incidents that the AASW/WA has received from professionals

who work in the field with asylum seekers and refugees;

a) One family was

left with no light in their room for three days.

b) One mother alleges that she was drugged and that this affected her

ability to breast-feed and bond with her child.

c) One family was handcuffed for seven hours, including young children.

The father was an alleged people smuggler.

Last

Updated 10 October 2002.