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Submission to the National
Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention from
Nicola Roxon MP, Shadow Minister
for Children and Youth
will inquire into the adequacy and appropriateness of Australia's treatment
of child asylum seekers and other children who are, or have been, held
in immigration detention, including:
1. The provisions
made by Australia to implement its international human rights obligations
regarding child asylum seekers, including unaccompanied minors.
2. The mandatory
detention of child asylum seekers and other children arriving in Australia
without visas, and alternatives to their detention.
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;
- 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 protect the human rights and best interests of all detained children.
6. 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.
includes any person under the age of 18.
Labor's Public Position on Asylum Seekers
For the purposes
of this submission, I would like to reiterate Labor's existing public
position, as announced by the Leader of the Party, The Hon. Simon Crean,
in his Australia Day address 2002.
This position addresses
issues regarding treatment of asylum seekers generally, but also specifically
issues affecting children in detention.
Labor is prepared
to work with the Government to get bi-partisan support for a comprehensive
and lasting solution to issue of processing and humane treatment of people
seeking asylum in this country. In doing so, we must ensure that our borders
remain well protected, and propose achieving this through the establishment
of a proper coast guard facility to patrol our coastline.
Further, there is
a desperate need for expeditious processing to speedily determine the
legitimacy of people's refugee status, once they arrive on our shores.
We believe that we
must get the balance right between protecting our borders and compassion.
This compassion should most obviously and immediately start with the children,
either accompanying their parent or parents, and those who arrive unaccompanied.
Australians are becoming
increasingly distressed with the plight of the children held in detention.
It is a clear Labor principle that all children, regardless of their family
background, should have the chance to be happy and healthy and get a good
As a nation, we should
be able to agree that it is wrong to hold innocent children behind razor
wire. Children should be out in the community where they can live more
normal lives and not be subjected to further trauma and stress, above
and beyond what they have experienced in the months and years before arriving
We shouldn't wait
until individual children in detention suffer abuse before we release
them. A safer course and a sounder principle is to get them all out of
We are proposing
the following practical solutions:
Where children seeking
asylum are unaccompanied by family members, they should be fostered out
in the community as quickly as possible.
Where children are
accompanied, we should allow them and their mothers to be released from
the centres into ordinary style housing under appropriate supervision
Where for some reason
a more formal detention setting is required for a child's family, then
those families should be separated from the other asylum seekers and housed
in more appropriate conditions.
Developing a more
comprehensive policy on Detention
Labor is in the process
of developing detailed policy statements on expediting processing and
mandatory detention. These statements will deal with the details of Labor's
plans to get children out from behind the razor wire.
Despite Labor's offer
of bipartisan support, it appears likely that under the Howard Government
children will remain in formal detention centres. Given this, as Shadow
Minister for Children and as the local member for the electorate of Gellibrand,
I wish to take this opportunity to detail some of the minimum conditions
which must be provided by the Government for children in detention settings.
of these minimum conditions is no substitute for the comprehensive plan
Labor will develop and release before the next election. However, the
adoption of these minimum conditions by the Howard Government would go
some way to alleviating the problems being experienced by children in
detention today. I trust that these factors will be taken account of by
Provision of Appropriate
It is important for
this Inquiry to note and highlight the fact that basic needs are not being
met for children in detention - not just in Woomera, but also in my electorate
at the Maribyrnong Detention Centre.
has separate facilities for families - but this essentially means a separate
room for sleeping. Other communal areas are shared and young men (12-15)
are required to sleep in the general men's facilities (with convicted
criminals awaiting deportation).
We must do all we
can to make the Government act quickly to release children, and in the
interim urgently provide a better environment for these most vulnerable
Access to Educational
If children are to
be held in detention, even temporarily, appropriate educational facilities
must be provided. Despite these provisions being a requirement under the
Immigration Detention Standards schedule in the Detentions Services Contract,
it has been brought to my attention that these standards are not being
met in some centres. (See attached letter from DIMIA, 26 March 2002).
are close to non-existent at Maribyrnong, and children must rely on the
discretion of the Centre's management as to whether they can access external
institutions. Smaller than the likes of Villawood, there are no teachers
at the facility. Primary aged children have been allowed to attend local
primary schools, but secondary aged children have not.
ACM and DIMIA fight
over what should be provided for these kids and who should pay for it
- all while they are held without any schooling. At the time of writing,
DIMIA has confirmed that there are currently five children held in Maribyrnong.
If the requirement to provide educational services is in the contracts
with ACM, it appears DIMIA doesn't adequately enforce those provisions.
This matter must be urgently dealt with.
Access to other
Again in Maribyrnong,
there appears to be no access to specialist child carers, pre-school teachers,
counsellors or community support. Maribyrnong is a centrally located facility,
but welfare organisations other than the Red Cross are not granted general
access, despite often being willing to provide services free of charge.
are scant - the hope of children developing with a balanced sense of wellbeing
in such an environment is impossible to imagine.
We are constantly
learning more in Australia about early childhood development and the value
of investing in our children early - so they can grow into balanced adults,
socially and emotionally adjusted and able to communicate and learn readily
in the future. Therefore, providing access to basic services such as maternal
and child health nurses, post-natal care, and other such services that
benefit both parents and young children should be considered an absolute
The Australian Early
Childhood Association, a national peak body of practitioners and policy
developers in the field of early childhood state in their position paper
- Families with
infants and children who have been exposed to trauma should be placed
in safe communities with the support of their primary caregivers
- Families should
have access to the support they need to care for their children and
participate in the community
- All school-aged
children should have access to school education
- All children
should be able to use early childhood services and funding should be
available to support this. If young children need o be in child care,
these services should be culturally appropriate and sensitive to the
needs of traumatised children
- All children
should have access to health programs and services
- Language support
should be available in the child's home language to help them learn
- Specialist support
services should be available to help children cope with trauma.
by Children in Detention
Many community groups
fear what the future will hold for these children in detention. Not only
are the children exposed to trauma and dislocation through fleeing their
home country, but then are subjected to extended periods in detention
which compounds this trauma. What impact can this ultimately have on their
development? What chance do they have of growing into happy, fulfilled
An article published
in the Australian Journal of Early Childhood (December 2000) titled "Working
in early childhood settings with children who have experienced refugee
or war-related trauma" (by Dr Margaret Sims, Dr Jackie Hayden,
Dr Glen Palmer, and Teresa Hutchins) states that:
who have experienced (traumas of war in countries from which they have
been displaced) learn to adjust in order to survive. The extreme nature
of their experiences results in adjustments that are developmentally
dangerous (Marans & Adelman, 1997). Children learn to think of the
world as a dangerous place where no-one can be trusted, especially not
adults. They learn to act aggressively before they themselves are hurt.
They learn to be hyper-vigilant, always on the lookout for danger and
never relaxing. They often re-enact their trauma, playing out scenes
of extreme violence and even involving other children in their play.
Conversely, children may react to trauma by repressing all effect. They
become unresponsive and close down emotional senses."
behaviours are seen as maladaptive and inappropriate in Australian early
childhood settings. Children displaying them often become labelled as
aggressive or withdrawn/shy by both staff and other children. This results
in their social isolation from the peer group". (pp41-42)
These are not the
sort of behaviours or environments that we should be accepting, or fostering,
within Australian institutions. For those children who end up settling
in Australia, either with their parents or in other arrangements, the
long term damage is likely to not only affect themselves but other children
and adults they come in contact with. For those children who are returned
back to their country of origin or sent elsewhere, we can only be seen
to have further added to their trauma during their period of incarceration
at a very early and vulnerable period in their lives.
Some of the behaviours
the above researchers observed in this study included:
- unusual withdrawn
- chronic fear
- fear of benign
items and people
- unnatural clinginess
and over-dependent behaviour
- continual difficulties
at sleep time and sleep disorders
- alterations to
- delayed development
because of behavioural difficulties
They concluded that
an empathetic understanding of the needs and situations of these children
and their families was essential in order to lay even a basic foundation
for assisting in the normal development of children at a young age. This
is even more important for young children who have experienced the traumas
most often faced in the process of seeking asylum in a distant country.
It appears that our
current treatment of children within detention centres is not even close
to meeting these basic standards of care, let alone concern, for the children
affected. A thorough reappraisal, by experts in the early childhood field,
of the facilities and professional care provided to children within detention
centres appears to be urgently required.
In conclusion, in
my position as Shadow Minister for Children and Youth, I congratulate
the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission for undertaking this
enquiry into Children in Detention. My concerns are in addition to the
great deal of worry within the community about what is happening within
our detention centres, and particularly the circumstances of the children.
In respect of children, we cannot afford to wait until Labor is in Government
and implements its policy of getting children out from behind the razor
wire. I urge this Inquiry to make practical recommendations to the Government
for the humane treatment of innocent children.
Like other community
members, I am continuously frustrated by the shroud of secrecy surrounding
detention centres. The community has a right to know the full truth about
what is happening.
I trust that through
this Inquiry more factual information, and greater public scrutiny, of
the detention centre regime managed by this Government and its contractors,
will be made available.
I appreciate the
opportunity to make this submission and look forward to the results, evidence
and recommendations being made publicly available as soon as possible.
Updated 9 January 2003.