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Submission to National Inquiry

into Children in Immigration Detention from

the Salvation Army - Eastern

Territory


General

Introduction and Comments

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 reference to:

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 to protect

the human rights and best interests of child asylum seekers and refugees

residing in the community after a period of detention.


General

Introduction and Comments:

The Salvation

Army appreciates the opportunity to contribute to this inquiry.

  • The Salvation

    Army upholds the principle that a high standard of care, protection

    and healthy development of all children within Australia without

    discrimination should be regarded as the normal expectation. Australia's

    quality standards of child care are high, as reflected in the charters

    of such state government bodies as, for example the New South Wales

    Department of Community Services. We assert that any lower quality

    standards for children who find themselves in immigration detention

    is not only unwarranted but is damaging to the child and to future

    community well being. This is especially so when it is noted that

    the children in immigration detention become the world's adult citizens,

    possibly in this country.

  • The Salvation

    Army is aware that international conventions are not legally binding

    on Australia without there having been appropriate legislation enacted.

    However, we do acknowledge that such conventions often set standards

    which we are morally obliged to uphold as being appropriate for

    the care of human life.

  • It is our

    understanding that the Australian government, through the Department

    of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA), is responsible

    for the management of all immigration centres. DIMA, in turn, has

    contracted the actual operation of these centres to Australasian

    Correctional Management (ACM), a commercial service provider. This

    arrangement means that ACM is obliged to provide certain minimum

    standards of care. The Salvation Army is concerned at the potential

    for a conflict of interests whereby need for profit impacts negatively

    on the delivery of high standards of care.

Therefore, we

suggest that there should be a high level of accountability by ACM

to the Australian community. Also, the level of accountability to

DIMA should be at least as high as the level of accountability to

the Commonwealth Department of Health and Aging required of providers

of aged care in the Australian community. This, we assert, is especially

so where children are involved.

The following

comments are direct responses to individual terms of reference.

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.

  • Family

    life. The Salvation Army affirms that the family is the basic

    social unit in any community, and that the quality of family life

    is particularly important for the healthy development of children.

    We are concerned that parental depression and despair as a result

    of being in detention centres, can result in impaired quality of

    care being given by parents, even to the point of neglect and abuse.

    All too often, dealing with a restrictive lifestyle can lead to

    depression which takes on a higher priority for the parents than

    caring for the children.

Recommendations:

  • Families

    (which include children) seeking asylum should be accommodated outside

    of detention immediately following initial health and security checks

    and appropriate registration.

  • When it is

    necessary for parents to be held in immigration detention, children

    should remain with their parents in accommodation that allows for

    some family space and privacy.

  • As boredom

    has been identified as a major cause of depression and threat to

    family life we would suggest that 'minimum standards' within detention

    centres should include maintenance of routines and constructive

    employment of time for both adults and children.

  • Unaccompanied

    minors.

    We would understand that children who arrive in Australia without

    proper guardians should be regarded in the same way as Australian

    children whose guardianship is the responsibility of the state.

    Their unaccompanied arrival may provide a greater risk of abuse

    over and above the trauma they have already experienced. Subject

    to appropriate checks we would recommend the placement of these

    children in suitable accommodation within the community.

2.

The mandatory detention of child asylum seekers and other children

arriving in Australia without visas, and alternatives to their detention.

Recommendations:

  • Children

    need to be given the highest priority in terms of time in screening

    for health issues, and for other issues such as the reasons for

    their arrival without visas etc…especially those arriving unaccompanied.

  • As already

    stated, we believe children ought not to be removed from their families

    unless there are extreme circumstances where it would be judged

    to be in their best interests to be removed.

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 reference to:

  • The

    conditions under which children are detained;

    Detainees and refugees spoken with have usually said that accommodation

    and facilities are reasonably clean and generally safe, although

    very cramped.

However, the

children are acutely aware of their isolation, especially in the more

remote centres such as Woomera and Curtin.

The Salvation

Army clearly supports the rules and practices that allow for children

to remain with their parents unless there are special circumstances.

We recognise also that certain conditions in immigration detention

centres are designed such that asylum seekers will be deterred from

choosing to arrive in Australia without proper authority. Therefore

it must follow that children who arrive with their parents will also

be subjected to those 'deterrent' conditions.

While we do not

comment on the appropriateness or otherwise of a 'deterrent' policy,

we are concerned to note that among the most vulnerable and impressionable

people impacted by such a policy, and therefore the conditions in

detention, are children of all ages. As already indicated, we believe

that the impact made on a child has long term repercussions for individuals

as well as the wider Australian community.

The potential

for children to be abused by some adult detainees within the centres

is a matter of concern.

  • Health,

    including mental health, development and disability;

    Both mental and physical health and development is clearly influenced

    by physical surroundings. Stress is identified as a major factor

    in some physical illnesses, such as "ear problems". Stress

    of course can be induced by a range of factors, and young people

    we have spoken with have overwhelmingly commented on the lack of

    vegetation such as trees and grass in the detention centres, therefore

    contributing to depression and anxiety.

Similarly overwhelming

have been comments on the food provided not reflecting adequate consideration

being given to the kinds of foods that are familiar to the detainees.

Although there has been enough food provided, the food has been largely

unpalatable, and so not eaten. This has led to problems related to

lack of adequate diet, as well as contributing to depression.

There is also

the problem of parents not being able to meet the needs for very small

children to be fed at irregular times. The lack of access to food

other than at strictly observed meal times creates this problem.

Recommendation:

Standards of

food and physical environment need to be at an appropriate level and

well monitored to achieve a less stressful / anxiety producing situation.

  • Education:
    • Assessment

      of education levels of children is difficult to gauge due to:

    • Some effects

      of trauma suffered by the children in various situations prior

      to their arrival in Australia.

    • The differing

      levels of English language skills.

    • The lack

      of interpreters provided to the detention centres.

  • English

    as Second Language (ESL) becomes the primary focus of education

    in the centres. We are aware that in some centres the guards have

    been the primary English 'teachers' in informal ways. Reports we

    have had have suggested that the guards have been helpful in playing

    with children and in general interaction.

We are given

to understand that unfortunately there is a high turnover of staff

in most detention centres. We are concerned that, particularly for

children in the centres on a long term basis, this fact is counterproductive

to providing a sense of continuity necessary for good learning and

indeed, for good mental health.

  • There are

    extremely limited classroom resources, including classroom availability

    itself.

  • The provision

    of basic equipment such as books, pens/pencils etc., is lacking,

    despite repeated appeals to ACM for these items.

  • ACM, as the

    operator of the detention centres, is the employer of education

    staff

    • The state

      departments of education do not recognise ACM - they do not

      take responsibility for providing education in the centre.

    • It has

      been made plain to education staff members employed in the centres

      that they are therefore directly responsible to ACM. This leaves

      them with no avenue for directing relevant education matters

      that they would, under other circumstances, consult with state

      education departments over.

  • In most centres

    children are given very little schooling unless it is provided by

    adult detainees.

Recommendations:

  • The provision

    of a dedicated classroom or school building close to but reasonably

    separated from activities in the main centre would be more conducive

    to the purposes of education.

  • The state

    education departments should be funded and given authority sufficiently

    to allow them to undertake:

  • The proper

    assessment of the education needs and levels of the children in

    the centre, enabling a smoother transition to formal schooling in

    the community, especially when the child is released from detention.

  • English to

    be taught in a more efficient way. We would encourage the continued

    help of guards in reinforcing the English language.

  • A less random

    approach to education in the centres. It was reported to us that

    during one child's 20 month detention, she was only offered one

    term of schooling.

  • That teachers

    employed in detention centres should be trained and adequately prepared

    to handle children affected by trauma.

4.

The impact of detention on the well being and healthy development

of children, including their long-term development.

  • The Salvation

    Army as an international organisation is very aware that children

    in immigration detention centres have been exposed to traumatic

    experiences prior to their arrival in Australia. Most, but not all

    detainees or former detainees we have spoken to, declared they had

    not been overly exposed to further violence or overt ill treatment

    during detention. One comment we received was that the violence

    in Woomera was much less than the violence witnessed previously

    in the country of origin. However, the fact that children are in

    this mandatory detention where they do witness further violence,

    exacerbates the effects of already existing trauma.

Recommendation:

We submit that

if children are to be kept in mandatory detention the opportunity

is there for specialised post trauma treatment to be provided. This

would be a best possible outcome for the detention experience.

Particularly

in focus would be specialised group therapy designed to help children

accept the changes in their circumstances, having been removed from

their home country and environment. A similar kind of therapy situation

has proven very effective for children of divorced parents who must

grow to cope with a situation that cannot be changed.

  • The Salvation

    Army has been made aware that in many cases, periods of detention

    in Australia for children have been for as long as 14 to 20 months,

    in some cases longer. This may have been after longer periods of

    detention or some other kinds of confinement in other places. It

    is well known that such time spans are experienced as being much

    longer for children than they are for adults.

Recommendations:

  • The Salvation

    Army would welcome measures that:

  • speed up the

    processing of the claims and appeals of asylum seekers who are in

    detention, and/or

  • investigate

    means whereby asylum seekers could be monitored in the community

    while waiting for a final decision to be made on residency, and/or

  • investigate

    and implement ways of helping to alleviate the conditions in those

    countries of origin which lead to refugee flight.

5.

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.

  • Provision

    of better information to families concerning cultural and legal

    expectations of people living in Australian community is necessary.

  • A Temporary

    Protection Visa (TPV) precludes enrolment in TAFEs and universities

    without 'up-front' payment of fees. This becomes a disincentive

    for children to take school seriously, or to aim for any education.

    It is also a factor in ongoing depression. This in turn has an affect

    on the smooth running of those schools involved.

Recommendations:

  • That a visa

    indicating permanent residency should be made available within a

    time frame that would be an incentive for children to maximise their

    potential in school.

  • That adult

    and higher education should be available to holders of a TPV without

    inflicting extra financial hardship on those seeking to enrol in

    appropriate courses. This is especially the case for those seeking

    to enrol in English language classes.

  • Provision

    of better information concerning resources legitimately available

    to families/children for education, health care etc.

Concluding

recommendation:

We would submit

that there should be:

  • A renegotiation

    of the contract between DIMA and ACM.

  • A review of

    the role of ACM by an independent body to ensure a high standard of

    service delivery congruent with the Immigration Detention Guidelines.

 

Last

Updated 9 January 2003.