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Submission to the National

Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention from

the Australian Liquor, Hospitality

and Miscellaneous Workers Union


Introduction

1.

Australia's International Obligations (Terms of Reference 1)

2.

Mandatory Detention of Children (Terms of Reference 2)

3.

The Adequacy of the Detention Environment (Terms of Reference 3)

4.

The Impact of Detention on the well being of children and additional

measures and safeguards required in detention facilities (Terms of Reference

4 & 5)

5.

Protecting the child in the Community (Terms of Reference 6)

Conclusion


The Australian Liquor,

Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union (LHMU) welcomes an opportunity

to make a submission to the Commission's Inquiry into Children in Immigration

in Australia.

The LHMU is arguably

the most diverse trade union in Australia, with membership and industrial

coverage across a range of sectors and industries, including in hospitality

and tourism, community services and health, contracting services such

as cleaning, catering and security, and in manufacturing.

The LHMU takes a

particular interest in this Inquiry because the LHMU has thousands of

members employed in the children's services sector throughout Australia,

whose job involves the care of children in early childhood education,

pre schools and childcare.

As well, the LHMU

has membership of workers who are employed by Australian Correction Management

as detention officers in immigration detention centres. Our coverage in

this area has evolved from our historical coverage of security officers

and more recently, of correctional officers in private correction facilities.

The LHMU has been active in canvassing many "workplace" issues

on behalf of our detention officer members, some of which are canvassed

in our submission below.

The ACTU has expressed

concern about conditions involving mandatory detention, including the

fact that refugee families and independent young children are being held

for many years. The LHMU reiterates these concerns and further supports

the submission of the ACTU to this Inquiry.

1. Australia's

International Obligations (Terms of Reference 1)

Last year, over 16,000

unaccompanied children applied for asylum in Europe. In Australia, 12,000

refugees arrived through the federal government's Humanitarian program.

The LHMU has expressed the view elsewhere that Australia's contribution

is disappointing given that there has been a huge increase in the number

of people seeking asylum worldwide. Particularly disappointing is that

the number of refugees arriving through the federal government's Humanitarian

Program has remained steady over the past three years, in stark contrast

to international trends where refugee numbers have increased. [1]

Australia supports

the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CROC). Article

37(b) requires that the detention of children only be used as a measure

of last resort and for the shortest possible period. Notwithstanding this,

according to federal government statistics there were 1147 detainees aged

17 years or younger in 2000-1. [2] At that time, this

was the third largest age category after 21 to 25 year olds (1614 detainees)

and 26 to 30 year olds (1495 detainees). These figures indicate that at

that time, the number of children in detention comprised 15% of all detainees.

[3] 23% of children in detention in January 2001 had

been in detention for more than six months, and a total of 14% had been

in detention for more than 12 months. [4]

Through its support

for the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Australia has effectively

endorsed the principle that mandatory detention of children be used as

a last resort. As noted above, Australia's support for the Convention

is at odds with the actual situation, namely a federal policy framework

which emphasises mandatory detention of asylum seekers.

Within this context,

in the case of accompanied children, a belief in the principle that a

child has a right to live with their parents leads children into a detention

environment. It is difficult to argue against the principle (that a child

has the right to live with its parents or other family members - even

in detention). It is equally difficult to conceive how the best interests

of a child can be properly addressed when the federal policy context has

as its foundation the system of mandatory detention. In the case of unaccompanied

minors, it is even more difficult to conceive how the interests of the

child are at all served by mandatory detention.

2.

Mandatory Detention of Children (Terms of Reference 2)

Australia is the

only Western country that has mandatory detention of asylum seekers. Clearly,

this policy has a specific impact on children (and arguably other groups,

such as women and asylum seekers) who are held in detention.

While the position

of children in detention forms the particular focus of the current deliberations,

the LHMU believes that HREOC should adopt a broad approach to its the

Inquiry.

The emotional, psychological

and developmental impact on a child of spending a short or extended period

of time in the detention environment is both direct (ie through their

own experiences of detention) and indirect (through the impact of detention

of family members from whom the child draws for support).

We have noted above

that the impact of detention on a child is both direct and indirect. We

take this point further to add that even where children are not detained,

the absence of family members who are held in detention and the inability

to retain contact with them will have an emotional impact on children

either directly or through the impact of separation on other family members.

For this reason,

we urge the Inquiry to undertake deliberations using a "child centred"

framework. [5]

In addressing the

issue of the possible separation of women and children (enabling women

and children to live outside detention or to live in specific family detention

centres), the Flood Report [6] has noted:

most women with whom this issue was raised in informal discussions with

my Inquiry, and who are currently in detention accompanied by children

and partners, made it clear that they would not be prepared to leave

male family members behind if they were offered the opportunity to be

located outside the centre with their children. Those with the strongest

views said that it would cause them serious distress if they were to

be separated from their partners"

Other practical considerations

observed in the Flood Report include: the availability of accommodation,

financial and other support, community attitudes and cost.

Additionally, the

effect of separation on detainees who are parents can have long term consequences

for both the parent and the child. This was recently expressed by a parent

detainee:

"One cannot

live without one's family, wife and children are the responsibility

of the head of the family. Now I am here, I do not know what is happening

to them. It is very hard for me, believe me. If the government took

me and threw me in the ocean it is better than like this".

It is also important

to have regard for the experience of the child prior to their entry to

Australia. Many children of asylum seekers have spent months or even years

in dangerous flight.

As Jasmine Zahedi

, a child refugee has commented:

"It was

hard to get out of Afghanistan. I was about 10 when we got out of there.

We came from our village to Mokur and from there we went to Karachi

…. After that we got in aeroplane, I think we went to Dubai, and

from there to Jakarta and from Jakarta to Bali, and then from Bali we

got in a boat and from boat we came to Australia…. We had storms.

For the two days when we were on our way, the first thing was that the

driver lost the way, he didn't know the way to Australia ….. and

a fishing boat got us and we signaled them and then they called the

police and they came and took us to a small island. After that we came

to Port Hedland….. We really hoped, we really prayed that God,

please, for our safety, keep us in your safety and take us to Australia".

It is into our trust

that Jasmine and children like her, arrive.

Finally, like others

in the community, the LHMU questions the logic of detaining women and

children when their partners, who have previously arrived here and had

their refugee status determined, are released into the community. This

imposes an unnecessary hardship on refugees and their families.

3.

The Adequacy of the Detention Environment (Terms of Reference 3)

In 2001, only two

centres (Port Hedland and Curtin) had playground equipment for children

and areas for sport. At Port Hedland, the LHMU is aware that the external

environment for children is one of "jungle gyms" on dirt and

the play area is surrounded by razor wire. The particular deficiencies

at Woomera hae been noted by the Inquiry into Immigration Detention (Flood

Report). [8]

The Flood Report

has noted that the detention environment is a very difficult one for detainees.

Very few detainees arrive with a proper understanding of the length of

time it is going to take to process their applications. This leads to

increased levels of tension and unrest. Many facilities are in need of

urgent upgrading, and under the current federal government there has been

a reduction in support services for detainees, such as the provision of

English language classes.

The LHMU points out

that within this environment, the job of the detention officer is a complex

and difficult one.

Wages and conditions

of employment of detention officers are set through a non-Union enterprise

agreement. The LHMU is not a party to this agreement.

The LHMU has been

actively pursuing many of the issues facing staff, such as the need for

improved skills and training. Members of the LHMU who work in the detention

environment are sympathetic and understanding of their multifaceted role

as a detention officer, and the importance of appropriate training and

skills in contributing to their ability to perform their jobs.

Primarily, however

it is our view that the detention environment is not suitable for children,

and an approach by this Inquiry that seeks to introduce improvements within

the detention environment may increase "adequacy", but will

fail to fully support the best interests of children.

4.

The Impact of Detention on the well being of children and additional measures

and safeguards required in detention facilities (Terms of Reference 4

& 5)

One of the area of

concerns expressed by women to the Inquiry into Immigration Detention

[9] concerned education, particularly by those in detention

for several months or more. As well parents worried about the impact of

riots or breakouts or if children should witness self harm by others in

detention. Distress is also caused when friends are released and they

have to stay behind, and this had lead to some instances of behavioural

problems amongst children.

The Executive Committee

of the UNHCR has drawn attention to the following issues and concerns

[10]:

  • The conditions

    in which many asylum seekers are detained, including serious overcrowding

    in living conditions, poor sanitary and other facilities and deficiencies

    in providing adequate outdoor space and recreational facilities.

  • Minors being detained

    or threatened with detention because of illegal entry into the country.

    According to the UNHCR, "such detention can pose grave risks to

    their well-being, their education and the psychological development".

The UNHCR supports

the following measures:

  • That the release

    of an adult member of the family be permitted to keep children out of

    detention.

  • That minor asylum

    seekers be accorded the full scope of legal rights available to adults,

    including where appropriate, the appointment of a legal guardian or

    advisor.

  • Minors should

    be detained separately from adults, unless these are their relatives,

    and they should never be placed with criminals.

  • Unaccompanied

    minors should never be detained.The UNHCR abhors the growing practice

    whereby asylum seekers are detained for insufficient reasons, without

    an adequate analysis of their individual circumstances or an opportunity

    to have their cases reviewed [11]

5.

Protecting the child in the Community (Terms of Reference 6)

The LHMU believes

that the federal government, as well as relevant state departments of

family and/or community services, should monitor and support children

following their release into the community.

6.

Conclusion

The LHMU has noted

that services and facilities for children held in detention are hopelessly

inadequate.

The UNHCR has recommended

the release of an adult member of the family to keep children out of detention.

However, the Flood Report canvassed the views of women detainees and found

that many did not support this course of action as it involved being separated

from their spouse.

We believe that community

housing and other alternatives to detention should be fully explored through

the Inquiry's deliberations. Alternatives to mandatory detention include

home detention and parole or probation. In Sweden, there are 17,000 asylum

seekers and 10,000 reside outside detention centres. Children are only

detained for a maximum of 6 days.

The LHMU believes

that the Inquiry should adopt a broad approach to the task at hand, and

be primarily guided by our obligations under the UN Convention on the

Rights of the Child.

Adopting such an

approach clearly challenges the current federal policy of mandatory detention,

as it rightly should.


1.

LHMU, Refugees are Welcome, An LHMU briefing paper on asylum seekers,

March 2002

2.

Background paper on Unauthorised Arrivals Strategy, Philip Ruddock MP,

Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, media

release

3.

More recent figures have not been cited by the LHMU.

4.

Philip Flood, AO Report of Inquiry into Immigration Detention Procedures,

February 2001, p11

5.

This statement applies to situations where children are detained with

family members, (and where the family environment does not pose any threat

to their wellbeing).

6.

Philip Flood AO, op cit p 30

7.

ABC Radio National, "Stangers in Our Midst", Encounter 29/7/01

8.

Philip Flood AO, op cit, p 30. That Report has made findings in relation

to processes and procedures for dealing with allegations of child sexual

abuse, and we trust that this Inquiry is familiar with the full report.

9.

Philip Flood, AO op cit, p 30-31

10.

UNHCR Detention of asylum seekers and refugees: the framework, the problem

and recommended practice (EC/49/SCCPR.13)

11.

UNHCR Detention of asylum seekers and refugees: the framework, the problem

and recommended practice (EC/49/SCCPR.13), part IV Conclusions

 

Last

Updated 9 January 2003.