detention centres in this country suffer overcrowding, a lack of
natural light and recreational facilities, and have completely
inadequate sanitary conditions. As our own Human Rights Commission has
found, they are more like overnight police lock-ups than places
suitable for the lengthy detention of people who have committed no
crime. And of course they are mostly sited thousands of miles from
civilisation. I could hardly believe my ears when I heard the Minister
describe them as something like Australians' homes. Some 482 children
under the age of 18 have been facing this very horror. Thirty or so of
them have been facing it alone. (Justice Marcus
lucky refugees, living in conditions "something like Australian
homes" come to Australia, according to the Minister for Immigration
not because they are fleeing persecution, but because they are making a
"lifestyle decision." He said at the Young Liberals conference
on January 7 2002 that "In the main, people who have sought to come
to Australia and make asylum claims do not come from a situation of persecution;
they come from a situation of safety and security," he said. "They
may not be able to go back to their country of origin but they are
making a life style choice." This is reported in The
Australian of Tuesday January 8 2002 on page 2.
Refugee Council of Australia is reported as responding that his remarks were
"grossly oversimplifying" the issue. "Rather than
being a lifestyle choice, in many instances it's a matter of life and
death," a spokesperson said.
Angeles Times said on January 5 2002 (link
Western-style democracies, Australia has a policy of locking up all
applicants for political asylum who have arrived without proper
documentation. Some remain in custody for years while the government
decides their fate.
Children who arrive without their parents are locked up with adults in
the country's booming chain of detention centers, run by a private
American-owned company. A handful of children born in detention have
never lived anywhere else.
Doctors worry that the long-term confinement of children in facilities
where they frequently witness violence and are denied adequate
schooling is causing serious psychological harm. Some children, they
fear, will never recover.
Several children have attempted suicide. Others have gone on hunger
strikes. At least three teenage boys have sewn their lips shut to
protest their incarceration and treatment, according to detainees.
Some officials say the detention centers are worse than the country's
prisons. Human rights activists worry that when long-term detainees
are eventually granted asylum and released, they will be so
psychologically scarred by their experience that they will have
difficulty adapting to life in Australia.
Children Out of Detention, a citizens group opposed to the mandatory
incarceration of children, says that guards have the authority to
strip-search anyone older than 10 and that children as young as 3 have
been placed with parents in the high security lockup used for
A 2-year-old was put in leg locks for 45 minutes and an 8-year-old boy
was handcuffed, the group says. Children at the centers generally
receive no schooling after they turn 12, and even up to that age it is
not always available.
is happening when our leaders are so at variance in their reporting to
what the people on the ground are saying. What is it that drives
people at Woomera to sew their lips together in protest? I have no
faith in the assertions of Mr. Ruddock. They seem only designed to
ease our conscience about the scandal of our detention centres.
Why are we so determined to be so harsh towards some of the world's most