Submission to the National
Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention from
the Australian Catholic Social
Respect for the human
person entails respect for the rights that flow from his [sic] dignity
as a creature. These rights are prior to society and must be recognised
by it. They are the basis of the moral legitimacy of every authority;
by flouting them, or refusing to recognise them in its positive legislation,
a society undermines its own moral legitimacy
Catechism of the Catholic Church, n 1930
The Australian Catholic
Social Justice Council (ACSJC) was set up by the Australian Catholic Bishops'
Conference (ACBC) in 1987 as the national justice and peace agency of
the Catholic Church in Australia. The Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference
mandates the ACSJC to promote research, education, advocacy and action
on social justice, peace and human rights, integrating them deeply into
the life of the whole Catholic community in Australia, and providing a
credible Catholic voice on these matters in Australian society. The ACSJC
is accountable to the ACBC through the Bishops' Committee for Justice,
Development and Peace.
underpinnings for the Catholic Church's education and advocacy in relation
to civil liberties and human rights are to be found in the scriptures
and Catholic Social Teaching.
Catholic Social Teaching
sums up the teachings of the Catholic Church on social justice issues.
It is the effort to bring the light of the Gospel to bear on the issues
we face in the social dimensions of our lives. Catholic social teaching
promotes a vision of a just society that is grounded in biblical revelation,
the teachings of the leaders of the early church, and in the wisdom gathered
from experience by the Christian community as it has responded to social
justice issues through history. As a formal body of teachings the social
doctrine has developed markedly in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
such as encyclical letters, pastoral statements, and pastoral letters
are the main sources of social teachings. Some of these documents, such
as Papal encyclicals, are international in scope and quite general. Others,
for example, pastoral statements by local Bishops and national conferences
of Bishops, look in detail at particular issues in particular places.
The Catholic Church
in Australia and elsewhere engages in education and advocacy regarding
human rights as part of its religious mission. 
2. Key Principles
Human dignity is
the starting point and central concern of Catholic thinking about human
rights and justice in society. Each person is created in the image and
likeness of God and so has an inalienable, transcendent God-given dignity.
To speak of human
rights is to speak of the rights that we can claim on the basis of our
human dignity. They are the things that are due to us simply because we
are human beings. It follows that each member of the human family is equal
in dignity and has equal rights because we are all created in God's likeness,
all children of the one God. We are sisters and brothers to each other.
We are not isloated
individuals but rather persons in community and so we must harmonise our
claims to rights with those of others under the common good. The State
has a particular role to play.
According to Catholic
Social Teaching, the basis, foundation and end of the State is the service
of the human person. The interest of the person is paramount, rather than
the interests of the state or national security. Governments must protect,
foster and promote the human rights of all people and all groups. Governments
must protect human rights in the civil and political as well as economic,
cultural and social spheres. Governments must act not only in the interests
of particular groups, but for the good of all. They must intervene in
social and economic life, to the extent necessary, to establish conditions
that help each person and each group to achieve their potential as freely
and fully as possible.
similar lines, the Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
acknowledges respect for human rights as the foundation of freedom, justice
and peace in the world.
Universal Common Good
We all have a responsibility
to one another and for one another.
is increasing and gradually spreading throughout the world. The unity
of the human family, embracing people who enjoy equal natural dignity,
implies a universal common good. This good calls for an organization of
the community of nations able to 'provide for the different needs of men;
this will involve the sphere of social life to which belong questions
of food, hygiene, education, . . . and certain situations arising here
and there, as for example . . . alleviating the miseries of refugees dispersed
throughout the world, and assisting migrants and their families.
'[GS 84 # 2.]Catechism of the Catholic Church, n 1911
Primary Importance of the
The first point of
reference for action on behalf of refugees must always be the human person
rather than the interests of States or of national security, because the
person comes before and above the State. Human persons live in families.
The family, grounded
on marriage freely contracted, monogamous and indissoluble, is and must
be considered the first and essential cell of human society. From this
it follows that most careful provision must be made for the family both
in economic and social matters as well as in those which are of a cultural
and moral nature, all of which look to the strengthening of the family
and helping it carry out its function.
Peace on Earth, John XXIII, 1963, n 16
Rights of Displaced Persons
As part of the preparation
for the Jubilee for Refugees, a Jubilee Charter of Rights of Displaced
People was prepared by representatives of Migrantes (an agency of the
Italian Bishops Conference), the Jesuit Refugee Service, the Italian Council
for Refugees, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, and the
Refugee Section of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants
and Itinerant People. It presents the consensus of the participating organizations
on the most important rights of refugees which have already been recognized
in international law, but which need to be emphasized and actualized.
The Charter, with its list of sixteen key rights has been attached as
an Appendix. It was presented by the Vatican delegation to the 55th Session
of the United Nations General Assembly as it addressed an agenda item
on the issue of refugees, returnees, displaced persons and humanitarian
Rights of the Child
The best interests
of the child, and the right of the child to health and education services,
and to protection must always be a priority. Access by independent professionals
for monitoring the extent to which such rights are in fact enjoyed is
necessary. The standards applied should be no less rigorous than those
that apply to other children resident in Australia.
shall take appropriate measures to ensure that a child who is seeking
refugee status or who is considered a refugee in accordance with applicable
international or domestic law and procedures shall, whether unaccompanied
or accompanied by his or her parents or by any other person, receive
appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance in the enjoyment
of applicable rights set forth in the present Convention and in other
international human rights or humanitarian instruments to which the
said States are Parties.
Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 22
3. Concerns regarding Children
in Immigration Detention
Refugee rights and the rights
of the child
The core of any policy
dealing with people must be a determination to protect human dignity.
Essential to the policy dealing with children in immigration detention
must also be a determination to ensure that the rights of the child and
the child's family are protected. The policy of locking up men, women
and children, or diverting them to neighbouring countries, fails this
fundamental test. It treats people who have committed no offence as if
they are criminals.
Child and adult refugees
and asylum seekers are persons, and should enjoy the whole range of human
rights. Obviously food, clothing, housing and protection from violence
are required, but so too are access to education and medical assistance,
the reunification of families, the possibility of assuming responsibility
for their own lives, cultivating their own cultures and traditions, and
the free expression of their faith.
The rights of the
child, who may be accompanied by family members or who may be unaccompanied,
must always be a priority.
Psychological and social well-being
The role of the child's
family in the child's social and psychological well-being has been well-researched.
There needs to be family support in immigration detention. At all times,
families must be kept united. If the detention of a family member is unavoidable,
the family should be given the choice of how and where they will reside.
Children not with
their families need protection and support. They should be fostered into
the community, into homes of people of the same ethnic origin.
Culture and religion
Children have a right
to formation and education in traditional cultural and religious values.
necessitates being aware of the consequences of mixing ethnic groups.
Detention and alternatives
The ACSJC would advocate
an end to mandatory detention. The ACSJC is participating with other Catholic
organisations in the preparation of a full alternative humanitarian program
policy, which will be launched in time for the 2002 DIMIA Review.
there must be provision of appropriate accommodation for families, so
that a family has its privacy and is not exposed to scenes of adult depression
The isolation of
detention centres and the difficulty of access to them means a scarcity
of services, in particular those needed by children and families with
to be done within a reasonable and limited time, and asylum seekers need
to know the amount of time their case should take.
Family groups should
be dealt with as a unit so that all family members get their visas at
the same time.
Where children seeking
asylum are unaccompanied by family members, they should be fostered out
in the community, as quickly as possible.
For a brief history of the Catholic Church's engagement with the concept
of human rights, see Cornish, S.J., From Rejection to Proclamation:
A Brief Overview of the Development of the Catholic Church's Thinking
on Human Rights, http://www.socialjustice.catholic.org.au
Updated 9 January 2003.