Click here to return to the Submission Index
Submission to National Inquiry
into Children in Immigration Detention from
Disability Action Inc
Inc. is an advocacy and disability rights supporting organisation for
people with any kind of disabilities in South Australia.
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.
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.
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
- The International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966)
- The International
Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966)
- The UN Convention
- 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.