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Commission Website: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention

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Submission to the National

Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention from

Rural Australians For Refugees,

Wangaratta Branch

Rural Australians

For Refugees Wangaratta Branch is not directly involved with children

or adults in detention centres. Therefore our submission is very brief

and comes from the desire to add to the growing voice of Australian citizens.

We do not support the current mandatory detention of refugees and asylum

seekers that is the present policy of government. We are not legally trained

and write very much as a part of the rural community of Australia.

As a basic premise,

children should not be detained, children should be with their parents,

therefore parents and children should be integrated into the community

at the earliest possible opportunity post health checks. These children

almost certainly have faced some degree of trauma, if not before arriving

in Australia or a pacific island detention camp then certainly after.

Their physical and social health needs should be addressed as a matter

of urgency. If a child is to be healthy it is also necessary that their

environment is healthy, thus their parents and community's physical and

social health needs also need to be urgently addressed.

Rural Australians

for Refugees Wangaratta Branch welcomes the 4000 people currently detained

and look forward to their release from custody and urgent integration

into the Australian community not on Temporary Protection Visas but as

much needed citizens. From a purely pragmatic standpoint we need immigrants

if for no other reason than to even out the population dip caused by the

post war population boom. There is no need to discuss the benefits to

this country of immigration they are well documented. Families need certainty;

the ability to be able to plan for a life is essential to the mental health

and well being of not only the asylum seekers but also the community they

ultimately become part of.

When determination

of the child and his/her family of their refugee status or asylum seeker

status is made, it is vital that the "fair and public hearing"

be supported by timely and trained legal assistance and advocacy. Obviously

to "enable a child to participate in decision making affecting her

or him" it is essential to understand what the decisions are and

how they are made, this requires highly skilled advocacy and time. Clearly

this should not ultimately be a matter for Ministerial humanitarian discretion;

the onus of refugee determination should be upon Australia not upon the

persons involved. These people should be considered refugees in need of

a humane response, until Australia can conclusively prove they are not.

If they are not, then they should be allowed to apply to become immigrants.

They should be able to make application from Australia, stay in Australia

throughout the determination process and be provided with a full range

of assistance to ensure physical and social health ie, legal, appropriate

housing, education, employment medical treatment etc.

Obviously guardians

for unaccompanied minors are vital and the choice of these guardians must

be a very careful process and should maintain maximum cultural safety

for these minors. Every effort should be made to locate their family and

support family reunion where possible. A conflict of interest exists if

a parliamentary Minister is the Guardian of people he has described in

terms that indicate he has a negative view of them before they even arrive

in the country.

To people not working

within the legislative framework the definition "owing to well-founded

fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership

of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country

of his (sic) nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling

to avail himself (sic) of the protection of that country; or who, not

having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual

residence as a result of such events, is unable, or owing to such fear,

is unwilling to return to it." seems quite clear and it is very difficult

for us to understand how the people who have risked everything to come

to this country do not meet this definition. As the "reasonable person"

ie a mixed group of rural Victorians, it is prima facie very difficult

to understand what the problem is with the release of people from detention

centers. Even those people destined to be returned to a country when a

country is found that will take them should not be living in places such

as Woomera or Curtin let alone children. We note the experience of a local

Shepparton psychologist who recently spent a month at Woomera. During

her work there she saw two children make serious suicide attempts one

was 11 and one was 13. She saw evidence of the harm being done to children

by having parents with nothing to do, and no discernable future, the extremely

high levels of self harm occurring, far above the normal prison population.

This is life long harm and it is difficult to not see this as a transgression

of the rights of the child as not having serious long-term consequences

and it would appear that compensation is owed to these people.

In conclusion, we

call for Australia to abandon mandatory detention and urgently integrate

these children and their community's into the wider community in a part

of Australia of their choice with a full range of support services and



Updated 9 January 2003.