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Commission Website: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention

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Submission to National Inquiry

into Children in Immigration Detention from

Disability Action Inc


Disability Action

Inc. is an advocacy and disability rights supporting organisation for

people with any kind of disabilities in South Australia.

Our organisation

has advocated with and for people with disability since 1987. We are funded

by the Department of Family and Community Services.


According to National

Ethnic Disability Alliance (NEDA) as of 5 February 2002 there were 16

children with disabilities such as vision impairment, acute dwarfism,

trauma, Perthes disease, cardiac, asthmatic and genetic disabilities residing

in detention centres (Port Hedland and Woomera). This number does not

include any of the detained refugees on the Pacific Islands like Nairu,

Christmas Islands and other Australian detention centres in third countries.

The systematic detention

of children amounts to a modern form of torture as can be seen by the

severe effects this treatment has on the mental health and consequently

physical health of children of all ages.

The predominant charge

is neglect and omission. It is neglect in regards to not providing children

with a healthy environment in which they can develop into 'normal', sociable

adults, and omission of action to redress the neglect, although pointed

at by many professional peak bodies, such as the Australian Medical Association,

the Australian College of Psychologists and many other health professionals.

In this case the torture comes as a result of omission rather than commission.

Unfortunately this

kind of torture does not allow for the identification of an individual

torturer, the manner in which detention impacts on the mind of children

nevertheless fits the definition of article one of the UN Convention Against


As the Minister for

Immigration has the function of parent in locus for the unaccompanied

minors, and is preventing parents from fulfilling their parental duties

to provide a safe and healthy environment for their children, the Minister

ought to be also considered parent in locus for those children whose parents

are in detention. Following this line of argument it is the Minister's

responsibility to protect his/her charges from harm.

Disability Action

Inc. considers it inhumane and against all principles of human rights

to detain anyone in a detention centre for longer than the period required

to undertake health and preliminary security checks.

Therefore we consider

the current policy of detention of asylum seekers as blatant discrimination

on the grounds of race and religion. Nobody would want their children,

especially children with disabilities, growing up in an environment such

as Woomera! And further, we urge the Human Rights Commission to take action

and recommend that conditions will be established for the parents of the

children in detention, in which they are able to protect their children

from harm and ill health, by releasing them into the community.

Australia is a signatory

to the following international conventions:

  • The Convention

    on the Rights of the Child (1989)

  • The Convention

    relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) and its 1967 Protocol (the

    Refugee Convention)

  • The International

    Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966)

  • The International

    Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966)

  • The UN Convention

    Against Torture

  • The Rules of

    the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty

They all clearly

state that it is not legal to detain people against their will, to not

allow access to health, education and welfare services. They also state

that it is illegal to discriminate against people on the grounds of their

race, faith, sex, property status or disability.

Detaining people

and especially children in detention over a long period of time and/or

in circumstances where other members of the family have already been released

to live in the community on temporary protection visas (TPVs), is clearly

in breach of the convention. Why would, as it happened, the father of

a family be out on a Temporary Protection Visa while his wife and children

are waiting in detention for over two years to join him? Is it not highly

likely that the whole family deserves the refugee status the father has

been given?

We are concerned

about the future of all children in detention. Being exposed to daily

desperate acts of family members and neighbours in the centre, to the

level of fear, depression, anxiety, which invariably affects the detainees,

must leave the children and young people deeply emotionally scarred, full

of fear about the future and leave them with permanent psychiatric, mental

and physical disabilities.

This may even prevent

them ever being given a chance to stay in Australia, as children with

disabilities are usually not allowed to come into the country. This concern

is not unfounded is demonstrated in the case of one of the refugees on

a TPV who wanted to be reunited with his family who had applied for visas.

His daughter was refused entry into Australia because she had a disability.

The desperate father set himself alight with tragic consequences.

Dr Aamer Sultan,

an Iraqi detainee at Villawood detention centre, calls the symptoms he

identified among the detainees 'immigration detention stress syndrome

(IDSS)'. Children and young people who spent considerable time behind

barbed wire with parents who are desperate, traumatised and certainly


As the attached article

by TONY STEPHENS in the Age, Saturday 15 December 2001 titled: Australia's

Child Prisoners shows, children and young people are exposed to extreme

situations only comparable to situations in concentration or prison camps.

Some babies were born in detention, their mothers suffering from post

natal depression, these babies are now three years of age and have not

seen the other side of the fence.

Other young people

come as unaccompanied minors, some looking after younger siblings. Even

if they are finally released they still not experience any security for

their future. On TPVs they can be sent 'home' at any time and they have

less rights and access to health, education and citizenship participation.

Young people need to belong, why are they excluded and what kind of future

options do they have?

Especially if we

compare the treatment of the refugees with the treatment business migrants

and other wealthy migrants receive there can be no doubt that Australia

is breaching its human rights obligation.

Disability Action

Inc. is particularly concerned about the fate of children with a disability.

While all children have the right to access education in our society,

children with a disability have difficulties getting their needs met even

if they are not in detention. We are concerned that the children with

a disability in detention centres, as far removed as Woomera, will not

be given the educational opportunities and medical support they need.

While the Commonwealth government insists on refusing children with a

disability entry into this country, even if one of it's parents has been

acknowledged as a refugee and lives in Australia, the government does

not mind inflicting circumstances upon children and young people which

may lead to lifelong disabilities.

Disability Action

Inc. does not believe that there is any justification for the current

practice of detention especially where families are involved. We are equally

concerned about the rights of children in Australian detention outside

of Australia on Cocos Island and Nauru for example. These children also

may already have a disability and their treatment and exposure to risks

may not be lesser than in the detention centres on Australian territory.

After having fled

horrific circumstances in their own countries and having travelled so

far under terrible conditions, and having waited for years for a country

to come forward and accept them as refugees, everyone will be traumatised.

No human being deserves such treatment. Nor do we believe that our government

should be the perpetrator of further human rights abuses.

Disability Action

Inc. can only recommend to remove children with their parents from the

detention centres as soon as possible. Health and security checks are

justified but should not take any longer than 4 weeks. If they do take

longer, at least the mother with the children should be released.

We demand the immediate

release of all children and young people to prevent further harm, which

can cause permanent disabilities to develop.

After all, if more

than 90% of all detainees are released as refugees (from the boat load

of the TAMPA only 2% were refused refugee status by the UN) why impose

such a severely damaging system on innocent children?

Our assessment after

talks with people who have direct contact with released refugees and former

staff of detention centres, is showing that the needs of children with

a disability are not met in detention centres. A young refugee spent over

a year in detention with polio and without any access to physiotherapy

or any other therapy, which could have alleviated some of his symptoms.

When the child was released many opportunities had been missed to improve

its condition.

We know that there

are not enough mental health services in Woomera accessible to the children

who need them (all of them) nor for the adults.

Special needs are

often not addressed in our communities in education, how they would be

addressed at Woomera is questionable. And yet all children from Woomera

would probably do better if they had daily trauma counselling and debriefing.

There is no other solution to address the neglect and abuse of the young

detainees than to release them and their families into the community.


Updated 9 January 2003.