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National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention

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Submission to the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention from

Rural Australians For Refugees, Wangaratta Branch

Rural Australians For Refugees Wangaratta Branch is not directly involved with children or adults in detention centres. Therefore our submission is very brief and comes from the desire to add to the growing voice of Australian citizens. We do not support the current mandatory detention of refugees and asylum seekers that is the present policy of government. We are not legally trained and write very much as a part of the rural community of Australia.

As a basic premise, children should not be detained, children should be with their parents, therefore parents and children should be integrated into the community at the earliest possible opportunity post health checks. These children almost certainly have faced some degree of trauma, if not before arriving in Australia or a pacific island detention camp then certainly after. Their physical and social health needs should be addressed as a matter of urgency. If a child is to be healthy it is also necessary that their environment is healthy, thus their parents and community's physical and social health needs also need to be urgently addressed.

Rural Australians for Refugees Wangaratta Branch welcomes the 4000 people currently detained and look forward to their release from custody and urgent integration into the Australian community not on Temporary Protection Visas but as much needed citizens. From a purely pragmatic standpoint we need immigrants if for no other reason than to even out the population dip caused by the post war population boom. There is no need to discuss the benefits to this country of immigration they are well documented. Families need certainty; the ability to be able to plan for a life is essential to the mental health and well being of not only the asylum seekers but also the community they ultimately become part of.

When determination of the child and his/her family of their refugee status or asylum seeker status is made, it is vital that the "fair and public hearing" be supported by timely and trained legal assistance and advocacy. Obviously to "enable a child to participate in decision making affecting her or him" it is essential to understand what the decisions are and how they are made, this requires highly skilled advocacy and time. Clearly this should not ultimately be a matter for Ministerial humanitarian discretion; the onus of refugee determination should be upon Australia not upon the persons involved. These people should be considered refugees in need of a humane response, until Australia can conclusively prove they are not. If they are not, then they should be allowed to apply to become immigrants. They should be able to make application from Australia, stay in Australia throughout the determination process and be provided with a full range of assistance to ensure physical and social health ie, legal, appropriate housing, education, employment medical treatment etc.

Obviously guardians for unaccompanied minors are vital and the choice of these guardians must be a very careful process and should maintain maximum cultural safety for these minors. Every effort should be made to locate their family and support family reunion where possible. A conflict of interest exists if a parliamentary Minister is the Guardian of people he has described in terms that indicate he has a negative view of them before they even arrive in the country.

To people not working within the legislative framework the definition "owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his (sic) nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself (sic) of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it." seems quite clear and it is very difficult for us to understand how the people who have risked everything to come to this country do not meet this definition. As the "reasonable person" ie a mixed group of rural Victorians, it is prima facie very difficult to understand what the problem is with the release of people from detention centres. Even those people destined to be returned to a country when a country is found that will take them should not be living in places such as Woomera or Curtin let alone children. We note the experience of a local Shepparton psychologist who recently spent a month at Woomera. During her work there she saw two children make serious suicide attempts one was 11 and one was 13. She saw evidence of the harm being done to children by having parents with nothing to do, and no discernable future, the extremely high levels of self harm occurring, far above the normal prison population. This is life long harm and it is difficult to not see this as a transgression of the rights of the child as not having serious long-term consequences and it would appear that compensation is owed to these people.

In conclusion, we call for Australia to abandon mandatory detention and urgently integrate these children and their community's into the wider community in a part of Australia of their choice with a full range of support services and opportunities.

Last Updated 9 January 2003.