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A last resort? - Summary Guide: Religion, language and culture

A Last Resort? - SUMMARY GUIDE. A Summary of the important issues, findings and recommendations of the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention

A last resort?

National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention

Religion, language and culture

The Convention on the Rights of the Child requires

Australia to protect children's right to cultural identity, language and

religion. It places a responsibility on the Department to facilitate their

religious and cultural practices, such as worship, diet, health and hygiene.

Between 1999 and 2002, children in detention predominantly

came from three language groups - Arabic, Dari (Afghan Persian) and Farsi

(Modern Persian). Smaller numbers of children spoke Pashto, Singhalese,

Tamil and Turkish. The major religious groups were Shi'a Muslim, Sunni

Muslim, Christian and Sabian Mandaean.

The Department and ACM tried to accommodate the religious

and cultural needs of children, although the detention environment and

the remoteness of some of the facilities created some difficulties. The

Inquiry found that:

  • most centres reserved space for public prayers and

    services and children could also pray in their private accommodation

  • clergy were generally allowed to visit detention

    centres, however, it was difficult for many to travel to remote centres

  • detainees were free to appoint their own representatives

    to conduct religious services

  • parents were allowed to provide religious teaching

    to their children and, in some cases religious texts and religious instruction

    by external authorities were provided

  • certain special cultural events and Muslim and Christian

    religious festivals were celebrated

  • efforts were made to provide culturally appropriate

    food for detainees, such as halal food for Muslim detainees.

Image: Muslim prayer room at Port Hedland, June 2002

Muslim prayer room at Port Hedland, June 2002

There are conflicting groups

forced into close proximity with each other that leads to tensions

… Religious tensions that may have caused people to flee in

the first place are part of everyday life in the detention centres.

Lutheran Community Care, submission

to the Inquiry


In some cases children were detained with people from

the same religious groups that had persecuted them in their homeland.

Sabian Mandaean children, in particular, experienced some harassment and

bullying from other child and adult detainees. The Department took some

general measures to try to protect children and families from such harassment,

although there was little evidence of a comprehensive preventative approach.

Inquiry finding

The Commonwealth has not denied

children in detention the right to religion, culture and language

to the extent of breaching the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

However, the Inquiry is concerned that the detention of children,

in remote centres and often long-term, limited their ability to

fully enjoy those rights.