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Submission to the National
Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention from
the Australian Catholic Migrant
and Refugee Office
Children in Immigration
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission
GPO Box 5218
Sydney NSW 1042
15 May 2002
This submission is
made on behalf of the Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office (ACMRO).
It addresses some of the terms of reference of the Inquiry.
ACMRO has consistently
urged the government to address the issue of children in detention and
advocated for their release into the community once security, health and
other checks have been completed.
I recently spent
a few days at Woomera, Port Hedland and Perth Airport Detention Centres.
At Woomera, I met children and witnessed their conditions and how they
are living their day-to-day lives. This first hand knowledge of the situation
in detention centres has enabled me to substantiate the claim that detention
for children is in contradiction with the Convention on the Rights
of the Child (1989).
To further support
this submission I am aware of anecdotal evidence provided by Catholic
Pastoral Workers who regularly visit detainees at Villawood, Maribyrnong,
Woomera, Port Hedland and Perth Centres.
and comments made in this submission are based on information and data
gathered from experienced Catholic pastoral workers who have been visiting
detention centres since they began operation. The Catholic Pastoral workers
have a significant level of information and knowledge vital to the inquiry.
They substantiate the theme of this submission that detention of children
is fundamentally wrong.
Terms of Reference:
1. The provisions
made by Australia to implement its international human rights obligations
regarding child asylum seekers, including unaccompanied minors.
to detain children despite of the UNCHR's Guideline on standards relating
to the detention of Asylum Seekers Guideline 2 on Refugee Children ,
stating persons under the age of 18 years who are asylum-seekers should
not be detained.
Many inquiries since
the 1994  have clearly identified children asylum
seekers rights and recommended their exclusion from mandatory detention.
The notion that "detention is undesirable for vulnerable people such
as women, children, unaccompanied minors"  was
a recommendation of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission
inquiry into the detention of unauthorised arrivals in Australia.
The situation for
children and unaccompanied minors continues to be an acute concern for
NGOs, organizations and agencies involved in providing assistance to children
and their families in detention. The negative situation of detention is
compounded for children who may understand less their situation and why
they are in detention, but nonetheless suffer in a similar way to adults
in detention. The unknown factor of the unsureness of the length of detention
is the major catalyst for the manifestation of feelings of loneliness
and isolation accumulating in a very negative detention experience.
Such a problem is
exacerbated for children who are less equipped to deal with feelings of
depression, mental distress, boredom, sleeplessness, psychotic episodes,
self harm and suicide attempts  and the negative psychological
and emotional effect for children who are exposed to the actions of other
detainees such as self-mutilation and attempted suicide. The prison-like
environment of detention and living in a confined and controlled atmosphere
is not an ideal situation for the development of the child. The United
Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child noted that detention "condemned
children to live in unsuitable conditions and damage their emotional health"
 . The Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference statement
on Asylum Seekers and Refugees  notes an insidious
situation in detention centres which could only have a detrimental effect
for daily living and the long-term development of children by stating:
draw attention to another oppressive feature of life in detention centres.
Where human rights are so substantially restricted, a climate of bullying
is enabled to flourish. Harassment, by one group of residents against
other, more vulnerable groups, makes a miserable situation truly desperate.
Having escaped from situations of persecution in their own countries,
members of ethnic and religious minorities find themselves subjected,
in the centres, to similar persecution, but with little opportunity
for redress. If our country is determined to continue with mandatory
detention, then the rights of the residents to safety and freedom from
harassment within the centres must be guaranteed".
workers who regularly visit children and families in detention centres
observe that the fundamental principle of the dignity of the individual
is a major failure of detention. The concept of detaining children contrasts
and contravenes with The Principle of Human Dignity as defined by Catholic
Social Teaching where "Every human being is created in the image
of God and redeemed by Jesus Christ, and therefore is invaluable and worthy
of respect as a member of the human family" .
By detaining children asylum seekers such dignity is not guaranteed or
Every person - regardless
of race, sex, age, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, employment
or economic status, health, intelligence, achievement or any other differentiating
characteristic is worthy of respect. It is not what you do or what you
have that gives you a claim on respect; it is simply being human that
establishes your dignity. Given that dignity, the human person is, in
the Catholic view, never a means, but always an end. 
The dignity of children
must be cherished and nurtured as observed in the body of Catholic social
teaching which highlights that individuals have dignity and it is the
principle of human dignity which gives the human person a claim on membership
in a community - the human family.
2. The mandatory
detention of child asylum seekers and other children arriving in Australia
without visas, and alternatives to their detention.
ACMRO has long supported
and advocated for alternatives to detention as developed and advocated
initially by the Refugee Council of Australia  and
more recently by other NGOs, agencies and concerned groups.
workers who visit children and their families in detention at Woomera
support a radical extension of the housing trial project to include children
and their mothers from all categories of immigration detention, not just
those in the first stage of assessment, and to eventually include fathers.
They also support expansion of the housing project both in Woomera, and
in other detention centres towns and cities in Australia. We believe that
it is destructive of young people's emotional, spiritual and psychological
health to incarcerate them in the centres.
The Australian Catholic
Bishops in their statement on Asylum seekers and Refugees 
clearly object to detention of children and advocate the benefits of the
Woomera housing trial project:
of detention centres, the difficulty of access to them, uncertainty
and ignorance about the assessment process on the part of the people
detained cause wide-spread and significant psychological damage. Staff
are similarly affected by the stressful environment of these centres.
In stark contrast
stand the achievements of the Housing Trial Project currently underway
in Woomera for women and children. Residents enjoy a much healthier
and less stressful lifestyle as they await the outcome of their applications
for visas. Violence and psychological harm is virtually non-existent
in this normal community setting. After initial misgivings, the local
Woomera community now accepts the presence of the Housing Trial. We
propose the extension of this trial: the inclusion of fathers of families
so that the family unit is complete, and the widening of the experiment
to communities beyond Woomera".
3. The adequacy
and effectiveness of the policies, agreements, laws, rules and practices
governing children in immigration detention or child asylum seekers and
refugees residing in the community after a period of detention, with particular
- the conditions
under which children are detained, health, including mental health,
development and disability;
- education - Refer
also to the submission made by the National Commission for Catholic
- culture - reference
the International Convent on Economic Social and Cultural Rights.
- security practices
4. The impact
of detention on the well-being and healthy development of children, including
their long-term development.
5. The additional
measures and safeguards which may be required in detention facilities
to protection the human rights and best interests of all detained children.
6. The additional
measures and safeguards which may be required to protect human rights
and best interests of child asylum seekers and refugees residing in the
community after a period of detention.
ACMRO endorsed the
submission made by the Kids in Detention (KIDS) working group and reference
it to address the terms of reference from 3 to 6 as detailed above. The
submission comprehensively addresses international law, domestic law and
comparative practice among the States of Australia
In particular, we
note the significance of the KIDS submission in addressing Australia's
international legal obligations in accordance with international conventions
and the necessity to address and adhere to these laws domestically. We
note the relevant international conventions including the: Rights of the
Child; Civil and Political Rights and Economic and Cultural Rights and
the Refugee Convention and Protocol are addressed extensively.
In conclusion, we
support the submission made by KIDS and those from Catholic agencies and
organizations, in particular the submission of the National Catholic Education
Commission which addresses education issues. Of note we are concerned
with the ongoing detention of children asylum seekers and their families
and believe that detention of children is reprehensible and challenges
our notions of dignity, protection and adherence to the rights of the
child. This notion is well acknowledged by Most Reverend Francis Carroll,
President of the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference, in a Statement
(29 January 2002) which observed that mandatory detention had deteriorated
and that, at the very least, children should not be held in detention
For your consideration.
Rev. John Murphy
Guidelines on applicable Criteria and Standards relating to the Detention
of Asylum Seekers. Web page http://10.9.36.50/support/policy/iomfom/iom2299a.htm,
date accessed 20 March 2000.
Control and Detention, AGPS 1994.
who've come across the seas: Detention of unauthorised arrivals",
pg. ix, 1998.
'harming' child asylum seeker" , page 9, The Age, 2 May 2002.
Refugees and Asylum Seekers, 26 March 2002.
J. Byron Issue: page 1, 31 October 1998.
web page www.refugeecouncil.org.au, date accessed 14 May 2002.
Conference: Refugees and Asylum Seekers, 26 March 2002.
Media Release, 29 January 2002.
Updated 9 January 2003.