Catholic Religious Australia, with Catholic Mission and many other interested organisations and individuals, has joined this international campaign to remove children from immigration detention.
According to the International Detention Coalition, Australia currently holds 528 children in secure and remote facilities.
Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (OSLH) Sister Anne Higgins AM has been involved with detained children and families for over 10 years and is supporting the call for an immediate end to the detention of children.
“The claims that detaining people for immigration purposes for any lengthy period, even 3 to 6 months, often leads to mental illness are well documented,” said Sr Anne.
“Children are especially vulnerable. I recall in particular a 12 year old girl who arrived at a detention facility with her parents and younger sister. She was a bright-eyed child relieved to be safe from the danger experienced in her country of origin,” reported Sr Anne.
After several months Sr Anne was alarmed to learn that the young girl was suicidal. As in many detention cases the refugee determination and review processes were drawn out allowing the fear and despair to re-emerge and through incarceration be heightened.
“Her parents were powerless; they could not change the situation. The local guards also did not know what to do. As the child’s life was now in danger from her situation, the doctor attending the Centre placed her in hospital. This bright-eyed, engaging young girl had now become a sad, listless child. After many more months the family were eventually accepted but severe damage had already been done to this young person and to her family.”
In a statement issued by the Australian Bishops Conference in January 2012 Bishop Gregory O’Kelly SJ of Port Pirie urged the Government to act, saying:
In Port Augusta we have thirty young people, nearly all minors and some in primary school, who have been in detention now for twelve months, at Christmas Island and there. The secondary school age minors have not been permitted to attend school. They are taught English for one hour a day. Apart from that one hour a day there is only an occasional activity to occupy them. Imagine how harmful the tedium is to growing young spirits. Despite a letter issued by the Minister last September, even though the minors are Catholic they are not permitted to attend the nearby Catholic school. We know that no parent and no politician would want their own children to undergo such a regime for so long.
Sr Anne gives an update on their situation:
These same children and young people have now been transferred to a larger detention facility in Darwin. While all of school age are receiving education at schools in the town when they return to camp there is no provision made for their youthful needs; at least in Port Augusta personal care was provided and the food was appropriate for children. Moreover as a minority group in a big Centre they are not given any Vietnamese food and are unable to cook for themselves. One can only conclude that these underage minors will soon be undernourished.
In its report, the IDC noted that there are a handful of countries around the world, such as Belgium, Argentina and Japan that have successfully put the interests of the child first and use community based alternatives to immigration detention.
Holding children in detention is unacceptable and clearly in breach of Australia's responsibilities under the Refugee Convention and the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child.
We call on the Government to act now to remove children from detention.
For more information:
Suzette Clark rsc, CRA Justice Network Coordinator