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Submission to the National

Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention from

the Australian Catholic Social

Justice Council

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.

1. Background

The philosophical

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.

Church documents

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. [1]

2. Key Principles

Human Dignity

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.

Proceeding along

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.

Human interdependence

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.

States Parties

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.

Cultural sensitivity

necessitates being aware of the consequences of mixing ethnic groups.

Detention and alternatives

to detention

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.

Within detention,

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

and violence.

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


Processing needs

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,


Updated 9 January 2003.