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Submission to the National

Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention from



Samaritans, the welfare

arm of the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle, is one of the largest regional

welfare organisations in Australia. We employ more than 500 professional

staff and enjoy the continuing support of over 400 volunteer workers.

Managed from Newcastle, Samaritans has a regional focus on the Hunter,

Central Coast and Manning regions and an annual turnover of nearly $17million.

The organisation delivers more than 80 welfare and community service programs

in 100 locations, providing service to more than 60,000 people annually.

Samaritans is committed

to the care and protection of children and young people in Australia,

regardless of their religion, race, country of origin, gender, political

persuasion (or those of their parents), sexuality, disability or immigration

status. This commitment has prompted the organisation to speak out against

the mandatory detention of children asylum seekers and their families.

The deteriorating situation in the detention camps and the growing pressure

on the government makes it incumbent for a child protection agency, such

as The Samaritans, to speak out.

Samaritans firmly

believes that detaining children, young people and their families in immigration

detention centres is not an appropriate option for dealing with refugees

arriving in this country seeking our protection.

Entering Australia

without a visa is not a crime under Australian law. Under international

law refugees have the right to seek asylum using any available means.

By branding refugees in Australia as "illegal" the government

is implying that the prolonged detention of people seeking refuge from

repressive regimes in prison-like camps is an appropriate response to

their "criminal" behaviour.

The mandatory imprisonment

of asylum seekers has aroused intense community debate since the arrival

of the first boats from Cambodia in 1989. The issue attracted further

controversy with the opening of the Port Hedland immigration detention

centre in North Western Australia in 1991. The isolation of the centre,

reports of poor facilities for detainees and the slow processing of their

applications, generated adverse media attention and some deep seeded community

divisions. There are now six detention facilities. These are:

  • Villawood Immigration

    Centre in Sydney

  • Maribyrnong in


  • Perth
  • Port Hedland
  • Curtin in Derby,


  • Woomera in SA



1. Australia's

commitments to child detainees under the Convention on the Rights of Children

and the Convention on the Rights of Refugees

The 1951 Convention

on the Treatment of Refugees clearly states that liberty is a fundamental

human right. As a general rule, detention of asylum seekers is not acceptable,

especially when those detained include the very vulnerable - children,

single women, families, and people with special psychological or medical

needs, such as torture victims.

The Convention specifically

prevents countries from punishing people who have arrived directly from

a country of persecution (or from another country where protection could

not be assured), provided that they present themselves speedily to the

authorities and show good cause for their entry without a visa. The Convention

only allows for detention if it is brief, absolutely necessary, and instituted

after other options have been implemented. Acceptable purposes include:

to verify identity, to determine the elements on which the claim for asylum

is based, or for the protection of the community. Under the Convention,

detained asylum seekers should always be informed of their rights - including

the right to challenge their imprisonment.

Australia violates

this convention because all refugees, including unaccompanied children

are subject to mandatory detention without discrimination. The detention

of refugees is neither brief nor necessary, with asylum seekers waiting

months or years for their applications to be processed.

Last year, there

were 1103 children held in Australian immigration detention centres, out

of a total of 8401 people overall. Many stay there for 6 months and some

for as long as 19 months, according to the Department of Immigration and

Multicultural Affairs. At Woomera detention centre, there are about 40

children without an accompanying adult.

Article 2 of the

Convention on the Rights of the Child states that "States Parties

shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention

to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any

kind, irrespective of the child's or his or her parent's or legal guardian's

race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national,

ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status".

This includes their immigration status. Australia's mandatory detention

of children asylum seekers is a clear breach of this convention as it

relates to Article 19(1) "States parties shall take all appropriate

legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect

children from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse,

neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, whilst in

the care of legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of

the child".

The government also

breaches the Convention in relation to Articles 6(2) (child's right to

survival and development); 22(1) (ensure the protection of rights of child

refugees or asylum seeker children; 24 (child's right to highest attainable

standard of health); 27 (child's right to adequate standard of living);

31 (child's right to play and recreational activities); 37© (the

right of the child deprived of liberty to be treated with humanity and

respect); 39 (promotion of physical and psychological recovery of child

victim). The Article most clearly breached is Article 37(b) which states

"…detention shall be used only as a measure of last resort and

for the shortest appropriate period of time…"

2. The "Best

Interests of the Child"

Article 3 of The

Convention states "In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken

by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative

authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall

be a primary consideration". The practice of mandatory detention

ignores the best interests of the child.

The Children and

Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 is the legislation governing

the care and protection of children and young people in NSW. The Act clearly

states that "...children and young persons receive such care and

protection as is necessary for their safety, welfare and well-being, taking

into account the rights, powers and duties of their parents or other persons

responsible for them, and…that all institutions, services and facilities

responsible for the care and protection of children and young persons

provide an environment for them that is free of violence and exploitation

and provide services that foster their health, developmental needs, spirituality,

self-respect and dignity…"

Detaining child asylum

seekers and their families in immigration detention centres clearly breaches

this Act, and similar legislation in other states of Australia.

Human Rights and

Equal Opportunity Commission officers recently completed a fact finding

mission to Woomera detention centre in South Australia, as part of the

National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention. The five day

assessment was extremely thorough and included interviews with children,

children with their family and others.

Interviews were also

held with the centre's management, medical and other staff. The Commission

concluded that there are clear breaches of the Convention on the Rights

of the Child, to which Australia is a signatory. The recent issues of

self-harm, neglect, and the wide-spread sense of despair felt by children

in these camps indicates that detention centres are not an appropriate

environment for children and young people.



1. Initial health

screening, testing and treatment required for children

More than half the

world's refugees are children. When children seeking asylum arrive in

Australia without papers we mandatorily detain them in detention centres

which are isolated from society and are operated by a private American

corrections company.

The best way to ensure

the safety, health and well-being of children asylum seekers is not to

detain them at all. All health screening should be conducted in the community

by culturally appropriate health and welfare professionals. The Samaritans

Foundation is opposed to the detention of children in immigration detention

centres. We are aware however, that initial screening is a necessary requirement

for public health concerns. Therefore, we suggest that unaccompanied children

and young people be placed in foster care in the community whilst the

screening process is undertaken. This will ensure that they receive the

care that is essential to their ability to recover from their experiences

in the country they have fled and their flight, as well as their ability

to adapt to a new environment. All initial health screening should be

undertaken in this time to identify any health, including mental health

issues, as well as public health issues that may be present. All unaccompanied

minors must not be detained at all but be placed immediately into the

community whilst screening is undertaken. Children and young people who

are not accompanied by a relative are at extreme risk of abuse if left

to fend for themselves in detention camps.

In order to meet

the requirements of the respective State Public Health Acts, all refugees

should be provided with a complete health screening, medical examination

and treatment within 7 days of their arrival. The health care needs of

each child must be identified by qualified medical and welfare professionals

and should have due regard to both the child's physical and mental health,

including the effects of trauma and torture.

Children requiring

specialist treatment should be referred immediately to community health

care. The child's family must be fully informed and be permitted to accompany

the child at all times. The care of children should be monitored continually.

This care includes dental treatment and preventative mental health intervention

aimed at minimising the psychological impact of becoming a refugee. All

care must be provided in a culturally appropriate manner and delivered

in such a way as not to further traumatise children and young people.

Screening and treating children and young people in detention centres,

surrounded by razor wire, swarming with guards carrying weapons, experiencing

rioting, suicides, self-harm and despair, parallels their experiences

in the regimes they have fled.

Whilst in the centres,

culturally appropriate food of sufficient nutritional value must be provided.

Three meals per day, fresh water, fruit and snacks available 24 hours,

tea and coffee making facilities and special diets for individual needs

such as medical reasons, religious beliefs etc.

All detainees must

be provided with toiletries and toilet facilities including access to

baths and showers in privacy. They must be provided with clean and adequate

clothing and underwear which is appropriate for the climate and for their

culture, including shoes. There must be facilities for washing clothes

as well as sufficient clean linen and bedding.

All developmental

needs of infants, children and young people must be met at all times.

This includes social programs, activities, education and outings with

family members. Children and young people must remain with their families

at all times. They must be allowed to maintain the family unit and enjoy

the safety and security that the family can provide.

2. Specific health

services required for children and pregnant women

"Babies have

been born into detention and children have grown up peering through barbed

wire to the open spaces beyond the compound" (The Age, 28/5/98)

In the Centres

and in the community.
If pregnant women are to be detained in immigration detention centres

it must be for screening purposes only and for a very short time. All

health and welfare screening should be conducted in the community. Pregnant

women must have access to ante-natal services. All children should be

born in a hospital in the community. There must be adequate facilities

for women to breastfeed in privacy with a midwife available 24 hours.

Refugee women have a number of distinct health needs specifically related

to their gender, their cultural and religious backgrounds, and their refugee


Many women from refugee backgrounds:

  • Will have had

    little or no previous health screening, particularly cervical and breast


  • Will have had

    little access to and knowledge of family planning services

  • May have psychosexual

    and mental health issues following trauma, rape and abuse during flight

  • Will have difficulty

    accessing health care services in the community due to language barriers,

    cultural barriers, cost, and transport

  • May experience

    difficulties surrounding female genital mutilation and accessing services

    providing appropriate rehabilitative, gynaecological and obstetric care

Refugee women may

have higher-risk pregnancies for some of the following reasons:

  • Previous multiple,

    spontaneous or elective abortions

  • Previous still


  • Neonatal death
  • Short spacing

    between pregnancies

  • Recurrent urinary

    tract infections, possibly associated with female genital mutilation

  • Aged above 35

    years or below 18 years

  • Pregnancy weight

    less than 45 kg

  • Rheumatic heart


(Toole M. Foreword

to Refugee Health and General Practice. Melbourne: The Victorian Foundation

for Survivors of Torture Inc.)

Cultural beliefs and practices surrounding childbirth are many and varied.

Many of these practices will clash with Australian medical practices and

beliefs but must be respected, unless the practice is actually harming

the health of the mother or baby. (Crossland J. (1995) A Manual for Refugee

Resettlement Support Groups. Wellington: Refugee and Migrant Commission)

Children asylum seekers

have particular health needs. Although they arrive with the same physical

and psychological health problems as other refugee children, the stresses

they face after arrival have a profound affect on their health.

Many have fled situations

of political unrest or terror and may have experienced intense and prolonged

traumatic experiences such as war, torture, rape, starvation, and loss

of families. On arrival in Australia, they become prisoners, held in detention

camps for prolonged periods of time. This can result in a burden of unsupported

needs and enormous worries. As a result, asylum seekers are particularly

vulnerable to feelings of profound isolation, hopelessness and depression

as well as a fear of being deported back to the country from which they

have escaped. This anxiety may lead to re-traumatisation and to the surfacing

of stress symptoms and mental health problems years after their arrival

in Australia. (Antiss S. 2001 Refugee Community Profiles for Service Providers.

Auckland: Auckland Refugees as Survivors Centre.)



1. Past Trauma

and Developmental Harm - Detection and Treatment after arrival, in the

centre and on release.

Refugees, including

children and young people are dominated by one feeling that is painfully

traumatic - a deep sense of loss. Loss of what is obvious and tangible

and external such as possessions, a home, lifestyle, family members, friends

or freedom - and the loss that is less obvious, internal and subjective

such as loss of trust in the self and others, loss of self-esteem, self-respect

and personal identity.

A 1996 study of refugee entrants in NSW found that 1 in 4 refugee people,

including children, had been subject to severe trauma and torture. (Iredale

R., Mitchell C. et al (1996) "Ambivalent Welcome: The Settlement

Experiences of Humanitarian Entrant Families in Australia". NSW Centre

for Multicultural Studies, University of Wollongong.

Most refugees arriving

in this country will have been exposed to traumatic events. These may


  • Threats to their

    own lives or those of their family and friends

  • Witnessing death

    squad killings

  • Witnessing mass

    murder and other cruelties inflicted on family or friends

  • Disappearances

    of family members or friends

  • Perilous flight

    or escape with no personal protection

  • Separation from

    family members

  • Forced marches
  • Extreme deprivation

    - poverty, unsanitary conditions, hunger, lack of health care

  • Persistent and

    long-term political repression, deprivation of human rights and harassment

  • Removal of shelter

    or forced displacement from homes

  • Refugee camp

    experiences involving prolonged squalor, malnutrition, physical, psychological

    and sexual abuse, absence of personal space, lack of safety

  • Torture

Common indicators

of such trauma include:

Physical Indicators

  • Brain damage
  • Chronic pain
  • Poor mobility
  • Missing teeth
  • Impaired hearing
  • Bronchitis
  • Mutilation of

    body parts

  • Scars or disfigurement
  • Damage to cervix,

    uterus, fissures, fistulas, pain from testes, irregular menstruation




  • Grief
  • Guilt and shame
  • Distrust and


  • Anxiety
  • Repressing/avoiding/forgetting

    traumatic events

  • Isolation
  • Depression
  • Post traumatic

    stress disorder

  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Suicide attempts
  • Psychosomatic


  • Eating disorders
  • Nightmares
  • Detachment
  • Flashbacks

It is rare for children

who have been exposed to trauma and torture to disclose to authorities,

especially when they are being detained against their will and they perceive

the authorities as a further threat. Generally, an awareness that a child

or young person is an asylum seeker is sufficient reason to orient care

to meet their needs. Therefore, detention is not appropriate for these

children. In the community, gentle enquiries by culturally appropriate

professionals over several sessions, can help to build up a picture of

their past and can assist in establishing the likelihood and extent of

exposure to trauma. Appropriate and immediate health and welfare treatment

is crucial to the current and future well being of the child and to their

ability to integrate into Australian society. Health professionals should

always use an appropriate interpreter keeping in mind cultural and gender

issues. They must ensure that they minimise any resemblance to a torture

or traumatic situation in the surroundings. For example, no razor wire,

guards, weapons, medical instruments and most importantly the current

experiences of children and families in detention of self-harm, hunger

strikes and suicide attempts.

2. The role of

the family in the child's social and psychological well-being

According to Islamic

religion, which is the religion of the majority of asylum seekers in immigration

detention centres in Australia, family life relies on the following four

pillars which are based on Qur'anic regulations and the traditions from

the life of the Prophet Muhammad, handed down from generation to generation.

These four pillars


1. Family life

as a cradle of human society providing a secure, healthy and encouraging

home for parents and the growing children.

2. Family life

a guardian of the natural erotic desires of men and women, leading this

powerful urge into wholesome channels.

3. Family life

as the very breeding place for human virtues like love, kindness, mercy.

4. Family life

as the most secure refuge against inward and outward troubles.

(Muslim Women's League (1995)

The importance of

family support for children and young people on arrival in Australia ranks

a close second to health as a factor that facilitates successful integration

in a new society. Families, in a broad sense, most importantly provide

emotional/moral support to children and young people. Children will be

most frightened when they are separated from their families. They will

experience increase levels of anxiety, fear, depression and despair which

can lead to severe mental health issues in the future.

Children who are

refugees or asylum seekers are being denied there most basic rights -

their right to enjoy family life, their right to learn, to make friends,

to play, to security, to good health - their right to be children. Instead

they face life in prison-like conditions, with no legal limits on the

length of their detention, living with other deeply traumatised people,

deprived of contact with the outside world, at risk of abuse.



The Australian government

is imposing conditions that we do not tolerate for our own children. Were

Australian children to experience imprisonment, not attending school and

exposure to violence and psychological harm, swift intervention would

occur by child protection authorities.

Denying children

the chance to experience childhood and family life damages them both now

and in ways that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

Children are always the most vulnerable parties in any conflict. In peacetime,

children rely on their families and the institutions around them to give

their lives stability and a springboard from which to learn about the

world around them and their place within it. As refugees fleeing from

oppressive regimes or war, those structures have been threatened and sometimes

completely obliterated. Detention merely perpetuates this state. It does

nothing to build resilience in child refugees who may be lucky enough

to make the transition to a new life in Australia.

Fostering stability

in the lives of child refugees is fundamental to re-building their sense

of well-being and their capacity to adapt to the huge changes involved

in resettlement.

Children who are

asylum seekers have not committed a crime. They need access to education,

health care, and have a right to live with their families and be reunited

with them when separated. They are entitled to a safe environment, free

of fear and intimidation. Imprisonment behind razor wire and wearing an

identity number is no way to bring up children. They need to grow in a

climate of trust, security, and attachment to others. But they also need

playgrounds, toys, grass, growth and development.

Until recently, the

population in detention centres consisted mainly of men who arrived from

troubled countries to seek refuge in Australia. In October 1999, a legislative

amendment was proclaimed to prevent these men from bringing their families

to Australia after they are granted residential status. As a direct result,

more men now arrive with their families, so that children arrive in ever

increasing numbers. (Rogalla B. (2001) Australia's Little Prisoners"

Australian Children's Rights News, no.28 March 2001). The protection visa

system, and the inability for men to apply to bring their families here

is responsible for placing more and more children at risk.

When refugees arrive

in a boat, children and their parents are arrested. Most are detained

in Woomera until the outcome of their application for refugee status is

decided. The Woomera camp is brightly lit at night and can be seen several

kilometres away from the Stuart Hwy. Within the boundary fence, additional

razor wire fences subdivide the camp into compounds. Guards are placed

at corners and at strategic point, so that every part of the fence is

always in full view. Guards patrol the perimeter and monitor the guards

at the static points in case they take their watchful eyes off the fence.

Children live with

their families in flat army-style barracks. The insides are dark during

the day because the tiny windows are covered with sheets to keep out the

heat. Air conditioning is barely effective when temperatures soar to 48

degrees in summer and there are no trees to provide shade. The smaller

room sleep four people in double bunks, with little floor space between

the beds. Two families often share a large dormitory with sheets as makeshift

curtains between each family area, to give the illusion of privacy.

Life is regimented

for children. Random head counts occur any time of the day or night, when

the siren calls to muster. Even asking for a cake of soap or for nappies

becomes a semi military operation. Guards control access to household

items and issue day-to-day rations.

Play for the children

lacks the colour, clutter and spontaneity one expects whenever children

are carefree and happy. Detained children learn to play quietly on the

barren ground. Education focuses on English language classes, and English

speaking people often teach the material. Other subjects receive little

attention and there is no formal curriculum with approval from the State

Education Department. (Peter Shadbolt in Woomera 31/8/01 The Telegraph


As previously discussed,

there is a very high chance that child refugees are traumatised before

they arrive in Australia. Instead of providing an environment where healing

can occur, the detention camps actually perpetuate the trauma. Negative

experiences in childhood create long-term pain and suffering later in

life. Children learn behaviour towards other by the way they are treated

as children. Children who are respected will learn respect. Those that

are cared for will learn to care for others weaker than themselves. Children

who are loved will learn tolerance and acceptance. In detention, children

will learn inhumanity, degradation, humiliation and disrespect for others.



Contrary to government

policy on mandatory detention for asylum seekers, The Samaritans Foundation

firmly believes that there are alternatives to detention that will allow

the government to process applications quickly and protect the community

and at the same time provide refugees with the dignity, respect, care

and safety that they require.

We understand that

asylum seekers claims do need to be assessed for legitimacy, but refugees

are not criminals and detention, if necessary at all, needs to be minimal.

It costs approximately $104 per day for each detainee. This is a very

expensive process. Community alternatives to mandatory detention, which

are already used internationally and within the current Australian parole

system, are a much cheaper alternative. Sweden, for example, receives

similar numbers of asylum seekers as Australia and uses detention only

to establish a person's identity and to conduct criminal screening. Most

detainees are released within a very short time. Children are only detained

for a maximum of 6 days. (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

(2000) "Reception Standards for Asylum Seekers in the European Union".

UNHCR Geneva.

The Refugee Council

of Australia has proposed a three-tier scheme as an alternative to mandatory

detention. These stages are:

  • Closed detention
  • Open detention
  • Community release

Under this model

and those used by other countries including Sweden and New Zealand, asylum

seekers waiting for their claims to be processed are given freedom of

movement after having satisfied identity and public safety checks. The

threat of absconding is low because it is in the best interest of the

asylum seeker to fulfil their responsibilities and not to jeopardise their


The benefits of this

type of system are obvious. They include:

  • Increased sensitivity

    to the human rights of asylum seekers

  • Affording dignity

    to those already traumatised

  • Addresses the

    needs of vulnerable groups such as children and women

  • Increased access

    to essential services.

Some alternative

models already in use in other countries include:

  • Monitoring -

    such as regular reporting to a case worker and the requirement to present

    within 24 hours if required

  • Guarantor - who

    would be responsible for the applicant and be called if the person could

    not be located

  • Release on conditions

    similar to bail

  • Open centres with

    hostel-like accommodation where people are free to come and go once

    their status is determined. This allows gradual integration into society.

The Samaritans Foundation

was involved with the Safe Haven Program in Singleton NSW. This program

provided accommodation and services for the Kosovar refugees. Being involved

in this program, and experiencing the benefits these types of programs

can achieve for refugees, has prompted us to offer our services again

to the government. We recently offered Samaritans resources to care for

some of the unattached minors being held in detention centres across Australia.

However, to date, we have had no response from the government.

Setting children

free is the only logical step available. Yet it is not acceptable to free

only the children because, as we know from the work of developmental researchers,

to separate children from their parents becomes the catalyst for generating

even more harm. Therefore, the children and their parents need to be released

together. Anything less undermines our own child protection laws in each

State and Territory and also undermines the laws of child development.

In conclusion, we

must face up to our humanitarian responsibilities. These responsibilities

include accepting refugee children and families. The way in which we do

this however, will define us either as a nation with humanitarian values

of inclusion, respect and care for those less fortunate, or as a nation

of exclusion, self-righteousness, and disregard for those in need.


1. Antiss S. (2001)

"Refugee Community Profiles for Service Providers" Auckland:

Auckland Refugees as Survivors Centre.

2. Crossland J. (1995)

"A Manual for Refugee Resettlement Support Groups" Wellington:

Refugee and Migrant Commission.

3. Iredale R., Mitchell

C. et al (1996) "Ambivalent Welcome: The Settlement Experiences of

Humanitarian Entrant Families in Australia". NSW Centre for Multicultural

Studies: University of Wollongong.

4. Muslim Women's

League (1995)

5. NSW Children and

Young Person's Care and Protection Act (1998). NSW Government:

6. Rogalla B (2001)

"Australia's Little Prisoners". Australian Children's Rights

News., no. 28 March 2001)

7. Shadbolt P. (2001)

"Peter Shadbolt in Woomera". The Telegraph: UK 31/8/01

8. Toole M "Foreward

to Refugee Health and General Practice". Melbourne: The Victorian

Foundation for Survivors of Torture inc.

9. United Nations,

"International Conventions on the Rights of the Child". 1959.

10. United Nations,

"International Conventions on the Treatment of Refugees". 1951.

11. United Nations

High Commissioner for Refugees (2000) "Reception Standards for Asylum

Seekers in the European Union". UNHCR: Geneva.


Updated 9 January 2003.