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Submission to National Inquiry

into Children in Immigration Detention from

Good Shepherd Youth and Family



is not a simple concession made to the refugee: he is not an object of

assistance, but rather a subject of rights and duties. Each country has

the responsibility to respect the rights of refugees and assure that they

are respected as much as the rights of its own citizens" [1]

"Catholic Social

Teachings have called upon society to welcome persons experiencing persecution

and to respect the human dignity of all people. The note that we all belong

to one human family and as such have obligations to promote the rights

and development of all peoples across the world irrespective of national

boundaries." [2]

"The gospel

teachings enjoin all to care for the orphan, the widow and to welcome

and care for the stranger."

(Is. 58:6-7; Matt25:34-46.)


Good Shepherd Youth

and Family Service is a work of the Good Shepherd Sisters who are a French

order of Catholic Nuns founded in 1835 by Sr. Mary Euphrasia with the

mission of providing protection for socially disadvantaged women and children.

The Good Shepherd

Sisters arrived in Melbourne from Angers France in 1863 at the request

of the Bishop of Melbourne, James Goold.

Good Shepherd Youth

and Family Service was established in 1976 out of a number of works of

the Sisters including residential care, an orphanage, emergency housing

for families and a micro credit scheme known as the No Interest Loans


Research projects

identifying areas of social need led to the establishment of centres in

Hastings on the Mornington Peninsula, in the western region at

St.Albans, St. Kilda and the Central Office in inner urban Collingwood.


Good Shepherd Youth

and Family Service works side by side to support and advocate for people

who are disadvantaged or oppressed in any way.

Good Shepherd provides

a range of services from family counselling to supported accommodation

for the homeless: from "no interest' loans, teenage foster care and

financial counselling to emergency housing and refuges for victims of

domestic violence.

Good Shepherd believes

that everyone, regardless of age, sex, culture or religion, has the right

to adequate income and shelter, opportunities for education and employment,

quality health care and nutrition, and that everyone should be treated

with dignity and respect.

A desire for social

justice and a deep and genuine concern for people is characteristic of

our work.


Good Shepherd Youth

and Family Service is responding to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity

Commission National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention out

of direct experience with young people passing through its services who

are or who have been refugee and humanitarian entrants to Australia. In

addition we are able to draw on the professional experience and knowledge

of a number of staff who work directly with young people who have experienced

loss, grief, family separation, dislocation and trauma more generally.


The Good Shepherd

submission will address the following 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 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 reference to:

    The conditions under which children are detained: and

    Guardianship issues.

  • 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 residing in

    the community after a period of detention.

The mandatory

detention of child asylum seekers and other children arriving in Australia

without visas, and alternatives to their detention

The Convention on

the Rights of the Child (1989) requires that

"No child

shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The

arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with

the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the

shortest appropriate period of time". [3]

While the detention

of unaccompanied children might well be consistent with Australian law,

Good Shepherd believes that it can only be justified for the purposes

of health screening and perhaps initiation of procedures which might establish

identity. There is no reason why detention beyond a few days is required.

In the case of children

accompanying their parents or guardians a question arises over the relative

benefits of detention with their family or community release without.

The principle however should remain that children should not be deprived

of their liberty arbitrarily and only as a measure of last resort and

for the shortest appropriate period of time- for this reason Good Shepherd

would advocate the release of all families with children within a set

time frame of say 28 days which should be sufficient to cover the most

basic of investigations and checks.

Detained families

with children should be separated from other adults. Article 37 (c). of

the Convention states that

"Every child

deprived of liberty shall be treated with humanity and respect for the

inherent dignity of the human person, and in a manner which takes into

account he needs of persons of their age. In particular, every child deprived

of liberty shall be separated from adults unless it is considered in the

child's best interest not to do so and shall have the right to maintain

contact with his or her family through correspondence and visits, save

in exceptional circumstances."

Separation from other

adults would minimise the impact of destructive and self harming behaviour

on children while they and their families are detained.

The impact of

detention on the well-being and healthy development of children, including

their long-term development.

Enormous harm is

being perpetrated upon the children in Australian Immigration Detention

Centres and this will have serious developmental consequences as these

children grow-up. Critical to a young person's well-being and healthy

development is a connectedness to their family (parents, siblings, extended

family), and to their local community and its members. Connectedness to

the wider community through school is the next most important factor where

the young person can establish vital peer relationships with other students

and mentor relationships with teachers and other adult mentors. Research

reveals that a sense of place also plays an important part in the healthy

development of a young person's identity. A massive body of research on

Resilience in young people (for example, see Andrew Fuller, LaTrobe University,

Melbourne and Robert Brooks, Harvard University, U.S.A.) points to the

fact that a broad community involvement greatly assists the well-being

and healthy development of young people. Activities such as sport, outdoor

leisure pursuits, cultural and social events, are crucial to a young person's

physical, social, intellectual, emotional and spiritual development. This

environment allows for the meeting of their basic emotional needs such

as love and belonging, self-acceptance, freedom and fun.

It is our understanding

that immigration detention of children allows for very few of these fundamental

experiences to occur in a young person's life, and these are therefore,

sowing the seeds for untold emotional/psychological damage to occur now

and in the future. We therefore state our strongest opposition to the

immigration detention of children (and their parents/guardians).

Agreements, laws

rules and practices governing children in immigration detention or child

asylum seekers and refugees residing in the community after a period of


The conditions

under which children are detained

It is our contention

that the Australian Government is violating three United Nations Human

Rights Conventions in regards to children:

The Convention on

the Rights of the Child -for failing to abide by the best interests of

the child and for detaining them not as a measure of last resort but immediately

on arrival

The International

Conventions on Civil and political rights- for arbitrarily detaining children;


The Convention Relating

to the Status of Refugees- for punishing with extended detention following

the illegal nature of arrival. Note that we make a distinction between

the illegal nature of arrival and the commonplace definitions used by

the media and encouraged by Government to describe asylum seekers as "illegals'.

Guardianship issues

Under the Immigration

(Guardianship of Children )Act 1946 the Minister is required to exercise

the same duties and obligations as a natural guardian of a child.

"The Minister

shall be the guardian of the person, and of the estate in Australia, of

every non-citizen child who arrives in Australia after the commencement

of this Act to the exclusion of the father and mother and every other

guardian of the child , and shall have, as guardian, the same rights,

powers, duties, obligations and liabilities as a natural guardian of the

child would have, until the child reaches the age of 18 years or leaves

Australia permanently, or until the provisions of this act case to apply

to and in relation to the child, whichever first happens." (S6)


It is our opinion

that the guardian of the child should stand in "loco parentis' and

therefore should have responsibility for "the long and short

term care, welfare and development of the child ". (Family

Law Act Section 60B) [5]

While conformity

to International Conventions and Standards and to the Department of Immigrations

own Detention Standards is necessary and appropriate, it appears to Good

Shepherd that detention of children whether accompanied or unaccompanied

by parents or guardians imposes special obligations on the Minister for

Immigration. We believe that not only is there an obligation to minimize

or avoid harm of the children detained but that there is a further positive

obligation to maximise the care, welfare and development of the child

or young person.

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 use of a private

for profit provider in the management of detention centres is a barrier

to appropriate scrutiny of operations. Experience with adult corrections

does not assist in understanding the special obligations that are in place

when children are detained. Good Shepherd is aware of the DIMA guidelines

in relation to the Detention Centres and are supportive of the good work

which has been undertaken by the Independent Committee appointed by the

Minister .

We are also aware

of the additional scrutiny provided by others with inspectorial roles

such as the West Australian Inspector of Custodial Services. We believe

that neither of these satisfy the concerns in the community at large about

what is happening in detention centres. Good Shepherd believes consideration

should be given to the establishment of a Community Visitor Scheme such

as established in Victoria for the visiting of Mental Health, Disability

and Community Residential facilities under the Guardian and Administration

Act. This visiting scheme draws on community members with broad life experience

and some training and allows them entry to facilities with a brief to

report on the care and provisions for those detained. They are seen as

entirely independent, representative of the community and their reports

are tabled in Parliament. It would be entirely possible to establish a

scheme at the Commonwealth level with particular reference to the Children

in Detention.

A further protection

could be the establishment of an Australian Childrens' Commissioner with

the capacity to represent the interests of all children in Australia ,

not just those with the status of citizenship.

The additional

measures and safeguards which may be required to protect the human rights

and best interests of child asylum seekers and refugees residing in the

community after a period of detention.


children and young people

Access to health,

education and support services is vitally important to young people coming

to Australia. Munira's story below is the story of a young woman who has

overcome tremendous odds to eventually become a citizen of Australia who

contributes to the well-being of our community.

" My name

is Munira Mohamed and I work at the Good Shepherd Youth and Family Service

located in Collingwood, as a housing support worker. The following is

a brief account of my story as a minor unaccompanied refugee in the

eighties, having being displaced in a number of countries, before eventually

finding my feet in Australia. What this brief highlights is how a potentially

tragic and unfortunate situation for a child has turned into a success

story with a little bit of support, compassion, tolerance, acceptance

and humanity on the part of the Australian community.

My family escaped

Ethiopia by foot in late 1978 due to the harsh military regime and civil

war that followed. My father was harassed and imprisoned a number of

times on bogus allegations before he decided to flee Ethiopia. My family

lived in a city and my father had a Jewellery business and employed

several young people in his business. The government prohibited leaving

the country and branded people as traitors if they attempted to leave.

Anyone who planned to leave the country at that time had to risk being

imprisoned, tortured and even killed.

My father decided

to sacrifice everything by leaving his home, business and other material

possessions and fleeing the country to maintain his social, political

and religious freedom and to escape persecution. Though we were young

and there were four of us, my father decided not to leave his young

family behind and face any risks that came along the journey together

with the family.

In the dark

of the night, in late 1978 the family was bundled into a Jeep and driven

to a small country town at the border with Djibouti in the Horn of Africa.

Once we arrived there, we were met by a small group of Somali nomads

who guided our way to Djibouti. I was 8 years old and the oldest child

in my family. My younger three siblings were, my sister who was 6 and

my brothers who were 5 and 4 when we fled Ethiopia, riding on camels'

back, while my parents walked for 2 weeks to get to Djibouti.

On arrival in

a small town in Djibouti, we went to the Djiboutian authorities and

informed them that we were asylum seekers, who escaped political persecution

in Ethiopia. We were sent to a refugee camp where we stayed for 1 month

while our application for refugee status was being processed. My family

then moved to the capital city which is also called Djibouti, started

a new business on an interim basis and hoped things would get better

in Ethiopia one day, so that we could return to our home country.

While the family

was able to gain housing, work and start a new life in Djibouti, the

children were unable to go to school as there were limited places in

the one formal school Djibouti offered its citizens. Hence, I stayed

at home and had a tutor that came once in a while to teach me the basics

in literacy and numeracy. My siblings and myself had little contact

with the outside world, as my parents were protective of us and did

not allow us to go outside and play with other children.

This is where

my story starts. One year after arrival in Djibouti, my mother sent

me to the market with a friend of hers to buy rice. On the way back

from the market I saw a group of young people gathering around a building.

My mother's friend and I decided to go over the building and have a

look at what was going on. We found out that it was the United Nation

officers interviewing young people, mostly young adults who were Refugees

in a bid to send them to Egypt on an interim basis to get an education

while waiting for the political climate in Ethiopia to settle down.

Suddenly, a

UN officer came over and asked if I was able to write and read in Arabic.

I nodded yes. The officer then provided me with a pen and paper and

asked me to write on it, which I did. That is all the interaction I

remember having with the officer. About a month later, my mother received

news that my name was on the UN list as having been selected to go to

school in Egypt. My mother's reaction was that of shock and fear. Subsequently

she asked the bearer of the news to keep it confidential. My mother

felt that my father would not allow me to go abroad, given that I was

a female and so young in age, as well as due to the lack of community

links in Egypt. My family knew no one in Egypt and there was no information

available about where and how I would live in Egypt, apart from the

promise that I'd go to school.


the news was kept hidden from my father until just days before the advertised

departure date. Some friends of my father however, eventually decided

to approach and persuade him to allow me to go to Egypt for the sake

of getting an education. What that meant in practical terms though,

was that I had just about 3 days to organise a passport and for psychosocial

and practical preparation time, such as packing and saying my goodbyes.

I found myself going through a climate of panic as my trip was being

organised to suddenly finding myself at the airport on the night of

my departure. Like a lamb to slaughter I went through the airport with

no emotions, as the reality of what was going to happen did not hit

at that point, while my mother searched for any Ethiopian travelling

to Egypt to ask them to keep in touch with her daughter in the hope

that they would somehow be able to oversee my well being.

On arrival in

Cairo, I emerged with 3 other Ethiopian refugee children who were all

boys. A UN officer was waiting to take us to some accommodation. We

were given no information about where we would be taken or what arrangement

has been made for us. After about half day of being driven around from

one hotel to another that refused to take 4 kids under the age of 10

unaccompanied, I started to panic and began to cry and beg to be taken

home to my mother. The UN officer was at his wits end as it started

to get dark and he had 4 tired and distressed children that he could

hardly communicate with, in the car. Eventually, he was able to strike

a deal with one hotel manager to accommodate us for one night on the

promise that he would collect us early the next morning. As arranged

he came and took us to the UN office in Cairo the next morning, where

they were able to get an Ethiopian woman who agreed to act as a guardian

for myself and one of the boys who came to Egypt with me.

I lived in Egypt

for 8 years in various bizarre housing arrangements, including becoming

a guardian myself at the age of 15 and finding myself in a flat with

4 of my younger siblings, who in 1985 were also sent to Egypt to get

an education. My Siblings ranged in age from 5 to 13 years. When the

responsibility of taking care of my siblings took it's toll on my physical

and emotional well being and lead to leaving school, I decided to apply

for resettlement in Australia through a relationship I had with a young

man who was also an Ethiopian refugee who was studying in Egypt. I decided

to include my sister, who follows me in age in my application, as I

was concerned that she would be assigned to look after the younger siblings

at the age of 13 in my absence.

My sister and

I arrived in Australia in 1987, in the company of this young man on

the basis of my relationship with him. A year after arrival in Melbourne

I left that relationship as I became ambitious about my future and wanted

to take advantage of the opportunities that were available to me in

terms of getting an education, personal development and breaking out

from the prescribed traditional role of women within my culture.

Coming to Australia,

within a relatively welcoming and tolerant social and political environment

has helped me to overcome the many hurdles and difficulties I faced

as an unaccompanied refugee child displaced in many places. Moreover,

having been given the kind of opportunities in terms of access to education,

health and community support services available to all Australian children,

I believe made me determined to make something out of life and give

something back to the Australian community that supported me in my effort

to once again became a citizen of a country, free from persecution,

harassment and displacement.

Generally where a

young person is unaccompanied, the Minister for Immigration delegates

guardian responsibility to State Departments of Community Services. The

capacity of States Departments to provide an active guardianship which

fosters in a positive way the relational social health and educational

development of young people is extremely limited. Much of the operational

approach of States Departments is coloured by child protection legislation

which aims at minimizing the footprint of State Intervention in the lives

of young people because at its base is a presumption that there is a family

which has the interests of the young person at centre although they may

not be able to give effect to this interest.

A wholistic approach

to the total well being of the young person is difficult to achieve in

an operational context of minimal intervention. While organizations such

as the Red Cross do have a wholistic approach their response is circumscribed

by the parameters of the Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme itself. The scheme

potentially could be expanded to provide a wider range of supports to

unaccompanied and accompanied young people and their families but Good

Shepherd advocates an examination of the option of the appointment of

Guardians from the community for unaccompanied young people in addition

to the services and assistance to which they may be entitled. It is understood

that this would require the relinquishment by both the Minister of Immigration

and the Department of Human Services of guardianship responsibilities;

the difficulties of this are not underestimated given the almost total

powers of the Minister for Immigration around relinquishment and resumption

of guardianship.

Good Shepherd notes

with concern the treatment of some young people who are released into

the community on almost the same basis as adults with the presumption

that they require minimal support and that they will connect with their

own community supports. The rationale behind this is that they have been

living extremely independently prior to entry to Australia. It appears

to us that the time on release is a time when intervention and support

has most impact and can ensure the most productive settlement of the young

person. For this reason they should not be exempt from the support mechanisms

in place for other children.

Accompanied young


The additional measures

required to protect the human rights and best interests of child asylum

seekers accompanied by parents or guardians would be met if those adult

asylum seekers were entitled to full financial and social support upon

release. The restricted entitlements associated with temporary protection

visas have a very severe impact on children in these families and this

is compounded by a lack of knowledge of alternative supports. Where families

do make contact with services such as those provided by Good Shepherd

they are responded to with the limited material and financial aid we have

available to us.



  • Helen Hoffman
  • Margaret Dorizzi
  • Jamie Edwards
  • Robert Williams
  • Lynne Chapman
  • Annette Leverett
  • Renee Huish
  • Trinity Henwood
  • Daniela Zimmermann
  • Linda Dicker
  • Marg Valentine
  • Christine Carter
  • Livia La Rocca
  • Louise Schlitz
  • Julie Leech
  • Michael Yore
  • Karolee Wade
  • Amber Richardson
  • Christine Soderiou
  • Jill Wain
  • Louise Dowling
  • RGS Kirsten Bickendorf
  • Carmel Stafford
  • Eva Barton
  • Carmen Dimech
  • Mike Williams
  • Jemma Mead
  • Patricia Aron
  • David Shannon
  • Violet Spasevski
  • Tina Kozmak
  • Helen Smallwood
  • Munira Mohamed
  • Barry Pullen
  • Marilyn Webster
  • And members of

    staff at Good Shepherd St. Albans and St. Kilda


1. Refugees:

A Challenge to Solidarity.

2. Catholic

Commission for Justice Development and Peace. (2000) "Hordes or Human

Beings- A discussion of the problems surrounding Australia's Response

to Asylum Seekers and Possible Solutions to those Problems."

3. Convention

on the Rights of the Child: Text as adopted by the General assembly of

the United Nations. (1989)

4. Immigration

(Guardianship of Chidlren) Act 1946

5. Family

Law Act (1975)


Updated 30 June 2003.