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Submission to Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission's
National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention

Keysar Trad (Vice President of the Lebanese Muslims Association)

3 May 2002

Introduction

My name is Keysar Trad. I am the Vice President of the Lebanese Muslims Association in Sydney. The Lebanese Muslims Association was established in 1961 by a group of Lebanese Muslim citizens to advocate on behalf of Lebanese and other Muslims in the Australian community. We have over 1100 financial members and over tens of thousands who use our facilities on festive occasions, many or our members (financial and non financial) meet at our mosques five times a day to offer worship and over 5000 members meet every Friday at midday for worship services. We also conduct other meetings and frequent social gatherings and are in regular contact with other Muslims (not just Lebanese) from around Australia and the world etc. In the last three years I have received a number of disturbing complaints regarding the treatment of detainees, particularly child detainees, in Immigration Detention Centres (IDCs) around Australia.

The following submission contains the substance of some of these complaints. It relates them to two areas identified in the HREOC Inquiry's Terms of Reference: 'Culture and Identity' and 'Mental Health and Development'. Evidence presented here is primarily from faxes or phone calls I have received from detainees in IDCs around Australia, as well as supporting evidence from publications and letters from DIMIA. The detainees' communications detail their own first hand experiences of living in IDCs. The published material corroborates many of their complaints and the replies from DIMIA indicate the unsatisfactory way with which these complaints have been dealt.

[Identifying details removed]

PRESERVATION OF CULTURE AND IDENTITY

Under the Article 8 of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, Australia must ensure that every child in Australia, regardless of nationality or immigration status and regardless of how the child arrived in Australia, enjoys access to their culture and identity without discrimination of any kind[1]. Under this Convention Australia is obliged to ensure the right of children belonging to ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities to enjoy their culture, use their language and practise their religion together with other members of their group. The Convention also recognises the right of parents to provide "appropriate direction and guidance" to their children in maintaining their own religion and culture[2].

However it would appear that these conventions have been breached on a number of occasions in Australian IDCs. Child refugees' rights to the preservation of their religion and their parents' rights to help them in this, would seem to be undermined by allowing evangelical Christians to convert Muslims in IDCs, while denying Muslim religious teachers access to IDCs on the unfounded fear that they would "proselytise". The April Issue of Southern Cross Magazine has a feature on Iranian Muslims who converted to Christianity in the detention centres. One such convert, Iranian-born [man], is quoted as saying that visitors "from the Persian Church" discussed the Bible with him in Farsi and "After talking to [them] ... he was convicted (sic) to accept Jesus into his life". The article relates that he has since left Villawood Detention Centre on a TPV and has joined the Evangelical Persian Church at St John's, Parramatta[3].

This would appear to be a clear case of evangelising being allowed within the confines of an IDC. It is corroborated by a segment which was featured on ABC radio National's religious program, the Religion Report (http://www.abc.net.au/rn/talks/8.30/relrpt/stories/s485645.htm) on Wednesday the 20th of February about the growing Christian converts among the asylum seekers in the Woomera detention centre. The program also interviewed the Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock about this issue, confirming his knowledge of the issue.

The ABC report stated that inside the Woomera IDC at that time, there were between eight and ten prisoners who had taken all the steps towards being received into the Catholic church, including baptism and confirmation, and that another 15 were at different stages of receiving instruction. The first convert at Woomera had been baptised about 18 months ago by the Bishop of Port Pirie, [name removed]. The report also suggested that the conversions were not confined to Woomera: at Port Headland, several have been baptised into the Uniting Church.

The Lebanese Muslim Association understands that all the different religious practices of asylum seekers should be supported while they are in detention. We do not object to DIMIA providing prayer rooms, and access for visiting chaplains, including those from the various Christian denominations who give comfort and support in a wide range of ways. We know that a significant minority of the detainees are not Muslims. However it would seem that some such as the Persian Evangelical Christian church connected with the Sydney Anglicans, working out of St John's Anglican Cathedral in Parramatta are actively proselytising. The ABC 'Religion Report' stated that "As well as providing clothes and toys, they circulate correspondence courses on basic Christianity to detention camps around Australia. All told they say, 200 detainees have done the course". The number of baptisms of ex-Muslims into the Catholic Church is also a matter for concern.

Furthermore, it would seem that Muslim community leaders and clerics are not allowed to provide Islamic services and counselling to those detained Muslim asylum seekers in Australia on an equal basis as Christian clerics. The Immigration Minister, Phillip Ruddock. Minister, was interviewed on the program and confirmed that the Federal government is aware of these conversions. He stated that while some people might convert in a misguided effort to increase the success of their applications that "you also have people who find in a detention environment that perhaps with the solace they receive and the assistance they receive from others, that they're prepared to be involved in a conversion... people can be the subject of conversions, it may be that they've never heard the message before and it has a particular impact upon them..." Yet the Mufty of Australia was refused the same opportunity to provide "solace" to Muslims detainees in Villawood. [Name removed], the Mufty of Australia spoke to Minister Ruddock at a meeting held on 10 June-2000 asking if he could visit detainees in stages 1 and 2 of Villawood to provide "spiritual and ethical guidance", the minister informed the Mufty that such a visit may be seen as proselytising. After further concerns were raised by asylum seekers at Villawood IDC, the Mufty wrote to [name removed], the ACM manager of Villawood telling him of his meeting with the Minister and requesting visiting rights (see Appendix 2). I contacted Villawood two weeks after this letter, I was told that it was referred to DIMA who referred it to Canberra - apparently they did not have the authority to make a decision without referring the matter to the minister. The answer came later that they could not allow the Mufty to make an official visit as this could be seen as proselytising. It would seem that the Minister on this occasion was not prepared to allow Muslim detainees the "solace" of their own religion. Yet on other occasions such as the Radio National 'Religion Report' he seems to support similar efforts by Christian clerics. This contravenes the prohibition against discrimination on religious grounds in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Refugee Convention and Australian law.

There is also a lack of religious spaces set aside that are specifically for Muslims (which recently has been the majority of detainees in Australian IDCs, Muslims for long periods had to use a recreation room for congregational prayers and there were complaints that others would have the television on and this would interfere with the performance of their prayers. In April 2000 I wrote to Minister Ruddock and the ACM Manager of Villawood requesting the setting aside of a prayer room of adequate size to accommodate all the Muslim detainees in stage 1 of Villawood IDC (a copy of the letter is attached as Appendix 1 at the end of this submission). The reply to this letter came from Senator Kay Patterson who was the parliamentary secretary to Minister Ruddock. She refused the request saying, however, that there may be some room that may be multipurpose when stage one of Villawood was renovated. However the very idea of a separate prayer space for Muslims seems to be repudiated in 2001when more than twenty people broke out of Villawood. Minister Ruddock said in interviews with the media that the escapees used the Villawood "mosque" to escape. There was no mosque, just a multipurpose hall that was also used by the Muslims as a prayer space.

The absence of adequate facilities such a separate prayer space make parents' transmission and maintenance of their religious traditions to their children more difficult, for example, in Islam, prayers are physical as well as verbal and spiritual, due to the nature of the prayers, men and women tend to pray in separate distinct sections of a prayer hall. In addition, the presence of people who are actively converting Muslims to Christianity in the IDCs also makes it difficult for parents to maintain and transmit their own religion to their children. The pressure to convert is increased by the notion that it might increase peoples' chances of success in applying for refugee status. Children are not excluded from proselytised to and this also mitigates against the preservation of their original religion and culture, breaching the Convention of the Rights of the Child.

Of even more serious concern is the discrimination, resulting in physical violence, that appears to have been directed against people while they were at prayer, in particular Palestinians, in Port Headland IRPC last year.

On the morning of Saturday the 31st of May 2001 at approximately 5:30 am, male detainees went towards the prayer hall to perform the early morning prayer. They were denied entry so they decided to pray in their block in groups of ten as the available room in the block could not accommodate prayers of more than ten at a time. As soon as the detainees commenced their Salaat (prayer), their block was stormed by approximately 170 officers believed to be from a number of agencies. The officers stopping the detainees from praying and then went about kicking doors open and ordering people to lie face down on the ground. If people were prostrate in prayer, the officers would not let them continue praying. Any movement by detainees was met with threats, intimidation and some were struck with batons.

When the officers told detainees to lay down on their faces, many of the detainees did not understand the officer's instruction being yelled at them in English and, as a result, the detainees kneeled and placed their arms over their heads. Detainees said that the officers came at them and kicked them down flat on their faces. Detainees said that the guards specifically asked for Palestinians and began kicking Palestinian detainees in the head and body.

As detainees were kicked to the ground, their hands were cuffed behind their backs, one arm taken from over their shoulder and the other from behind their backs, their ankles were then taken and chained to their hands. Detainees were kept in this position, some for 4 hours and others until midday. Some officers placed their feet on the backs and heads of detainees and kept their feet on their backs for some time. Detainees in this position were not allowed to move, those who needed to go to the toilet were taken to the toilet and were forced to go with the door open, even women were not allowed to close the toilet door.

Detainees complained that steel batons were used against them[5]. One ACM official placed his baton on the bottom of a detainee and pushed the baton and threatened to ram it into the rectum of the detainee. Detainees also complained that their rooms were searched by officers without the detainee allowed to see what was happening. A 70 year old woman who was praying in her room was dragged out of her room as it was searched. In many cases, the detainees lost personal items, during the search, like spectacles. They also complained about finding their clothing on the ground with shoe prints on them.

Detainees reported that during this raid, 22 of their number were arrested, including a family. The father and mother, [names removed] and their adolescent children. The mother was accused by ACM as being an organiser behind the hunger strikes which had recently occurred in the centre. (Detainees stated that they had been on a peaceful hunger strike before the incident. They said that officers accused them of forcing children not to eat, which they said was untrue).

The [family's] two other children, a girl [age removed] and a boy [age removed] were left at the Port Headland detention centre without their parents and without any other relatives to look after them, this was their case for several days. They were looked after by other detainees, I do not know when their parents were released or how long they were kept away from their children. These two young children refused to eat and were unable to sleep for a number of days after the event, this remained their condition until at least Wednesday which was the last time that I had contact with detainees at Port Headland in relation to this incident. The children of nightmares in which they saw their mother being hit with batons by the officers. They said this vision was incessant and occurred every time they tried to sleep.

As Vice President of the Lebanese Muslim Association, I was first alerted to this incident by a detainee who contacted me on the 28th of May. I asked him to write a statement, sign it and fax it to me. He advised me in a telephone conversation of 30 May that he had done this on 28 May and that the statement was signed by witnesses and that he had given the statement to the IDC officers to fax to me. I advised him that I had not received this statement. The detainee asked the officers about the fax and were told it would be sent, the fax was finally sent on 6 June 2001 and it bore the approximately 50 signatures to support the statements therein. The detainees asked for an independent Judicial Committee to inquire into the running of the Port Headland IRPC and of all detention centres in Australia. So far there has been no such independent investigation of these very serious allegations.

This incident illustrates the unsympathetic environment in which parents struggle to pass on their religion and cultural identity to their children. Prayers are interrupted by military-style raids; those prostate in prayer are kicked, bound and left on the ground; and people are victimised on the basis of their identification with a particular nationality and culture (in this case Palestinian); adolescent children are jailed with their parents and young children are separated from the rest of their immediate family. Apart from the violation of Australian law and common decency that occurred during this raid, Article 3(1) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (hereafter CRC) was also violated. It states that: "In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration". This "best interests" rule means that children have a right to "grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding" (Preamble to the CRC).

The CRC recognises that all actions concerning child asylum seekers must respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents and families to provide direction to a child in the exercise of her or his rights (articles 5, 9 and 18 of the CRC). The CRC recognises the family as "the fundamental group of society" and recognises children's rights in the context of parental rights and duties. These events at Port Headland IDC on the 31st of May, 2001 make these conventions to which Australia is a signatory sound like bitter irony.

MENTAL HEALTH AND DEVELOPMENT

The Convention on the Rights of the Child obliges Australia to protect children from sexual exploitation and abuse. [6] In many IDCs child asylum seekers face threats from other detainees, including the threat of sexual abuse. The Australian government seems to be doing little to prevent the rape of children in our IDCs as described in the following account.

On Friday the 18th of January 2002, at Curtain IDC, three detainees of Sri Lankan origin allegedly sexually assaulted a [young] Iraqi asylum seeker after detaining him in their room. The 5 year-old boy had been held at the Curtain detention centre with [the rest of his family] for a period exceeding ten months. During their detention with large groups of male detainees of various nationalities, the little boys and the young lady of this family were the subject of constant sexual harassment culminating in this alleged sexual assault. For several months preceding the assault, repeated requests had been made to the Immigration Department to move the family to a detention centre that was more accessible to their boys' step father, an Australian citizen and his four Australian step brothers. But all these requests had been refused.

During the assault, the boy stated that he was forced by the three men to look at a pornographic magazine depicting graphic sexual acts. The three men then stripped the boy and forced him to copy the sexual acts with them.

The family lodged a complaint on the evening of Friday the 18th of January with Australasian Correctional Management staff (ACM) the security company that manages the detention centre of oral and anal penile penetration of a [young] boy by three male Sri Lankan detainees. The mother of the boy contacted me on Sunday afternoon Sydney time concerned that nothing had been done to pursue their complaint.

I contacted people in Immigration (DIMIA) and also the Derby police (Derby is the suburb in Western Australia where Curtin Detention Centre is located). I also contacted a journalist from the SMH who also contacted DIMIA. DIMIA did not reply to my query while the Derby police told me that the matter had been referred to the federal police on Saturday morning (The 19th of Jan 2002).

For three days the police did not interview the family and the little boy did not receive any medical treatment or examination. The boy suffered anal bleeding, was having terrible problems with his toilet functions and was unable to sleep at night because he was now experiencing terrible nightmares.

It was only after the journalist made his enquiries with the Canberra office of DIMIA, that the family was immediately moved to a closed section of the camp and the alleged perpetrators were also moved to a different section, on Sunday the 20th of January.

The doctor finally examined the boy in the week commencing the 21st. However he refused to examine his anus and refused to take saliva samples. The mother kept pleading with the doctor to examine the bleeding, the doctor told her to ignore it, it could be the result of a scratch or something. He just refused to do the required examination.

Later that week, the alleged perpetrators were released back to the main section of the camp and so was the family. The allegations were then checked by the Derby police (not the federal police AND NOT POLICE TRAINED IN THE INVESTIGATION OF CHILD ABUSE?). They found that there were no witnesses to "indecent exposure", so the men were sent free. The Derby police also told the mother of the boy that [her son and another child] both went to the room of these men, woke them up from their sleep and started undressing them and fondling them. They described the family as "trouble makers" and declared the alleged perpetrators to be innocent to the committee of refugees inside the centre (this is a committee made up of detainees to represent the needs fellow asylum seekers with both DIMIA and ACM).

The mother says that the boy never had access to pornographic material before the arrival of these men. They had moved from country to country in refugee camps since the five year old boy was two. They did not have satellite tv or pornographic magazines and the boy's father had been disappeared since the boy was one year of age (believed arrested by Iraqi security services). She insists the boy would not know of such things. The boy himself clearly stated that the men produced a pornographic magazine and forced him to copy the acts depicted therein.

When pushed to comment on the sexual assault a spokesman for DIMIA said that they found no evidence for indecent exposure. He said that they would not investigate the alleged assault unless the family lodged another complaint of sexual assault. This statement was reported by the West Australian newspaper on 31 January 02 (though the article mistakes the mother's nationality [details removed]). The mother's two clear statements with the help of two translators yet her charges of rape and sexual assault was changed into indecent exposure. The allegations of oral and anal penetration were clearly conveyed.

This alleged assault and the official response to it raises a number of serious concerns about existing protocols for handling allegations of sexual assault of children in IDCs. There appears to be a large difference between the way such allegations are treated in IDCs and the way they are treated in the outside Australian community. Child sexual assault victims are usually handled with great care. Great care especially is taken with interviewing them so as not to prejudice evidence. Interviews may be videotaped, props such as puppets used and leading questions scrupulously avoided. Medical treatment and counselling is given immediately after sexual assaults are reported. In this case, these legal and medical procedures were not followed. A medical examination which would have needed to be carried out with as little delay as possible for legal reasons, as well as humanitarian ones, was delayed for several days. The victim did not receive the same level of support from child protection authorities after the incident was reported. It would appear that in this case the Australian government and various other bodies such as ACM, the Derby police and the doctor in question were perhaps suffering from a conflict of interest. The Derby police's claim that a five year old boy could instigate a sexual act with three adult men beggars belief. But even if the police sincerely believed this to be the case then they must believe that the young boys were living in an environment that has caused them to act out grossly inappropriate sexual behaviours. Outside an IDC, in the wider Australian community such concerns would see young boys removed by DOCs for their own safety. The absence of any child protection measures inside IDCs discriminates against asylum seeking children. It would seem that children (and adults) within IDCs can be punished under Australian laws but not protected by them.[7]

Health Care issues

I have received complaints from asylum seekers that there is an inordinate wait for proper medical examination, that people may have to wait for weeks or months before being seen by a doctor. They are usually seen by a nurse and have to wait until a doctor is available. In one instance, it was reported that a child had developed a fever because of inadequate medical attention. I sent a letter to the IDC management and a copy to Minister Ruddock and another to the shadow minister for immigration. Senator Kay Patterson replied to my letter four weeks later and stated that the child was referred to a hospital on the same day that my letter was faxed to the IDC at Curtin. [8] Please refer to Appendix 4

Reunion of children with parents

This issue is particularly important on a number of counts, firstly, asylum seekers who are found to be genuine refugees are now only granted a temporary protection visa (TPV). TPVs carry less privileges than Permanent Protection Visas (PPV). Amongst the most important differences are that TPV holders are not entitled to free English classes, they are not permitted to return to Australia if they travel from Australia for any reason and they have no entitlement to sponsor family members under the family reunion provisions. Many TPV holders have travelled without their wife and children in the hope that when they are granted asylum, their families can join them. The restrictions pertaining to this type of visa does not permit family reunion. Many of the survivors from a boating tragedy where over 350 asylum seekers drowned off the coast of Indonesia on 20 October 2001 state that they risked the arduous journey and resorted to a people smuggler so that they can be reunited with their families. More than 100 children died on that boat, many of these had fathers in Australia, some had siblings in Australia. Further, one of the survivors who remains in Indonesia despite being identified as a genuine refugee by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) and having been allocated to Australia has two daughters under the age of ten in Australia. I personally spoke to the two daughters of this lady, who had also lost a son, a brother and a sister in the drowning. The young girls are traumatised and very depressed over the fact that DIMIA procrastination is keeping their mother away from them. The plight of this particular family was reported by the Sydney Morning Herald AM edition on April 18, 2002, see:
http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2002/04/17/1019020662372.html
and by The Age on April 20, 2002, see:
http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2002/04/19/1019020706649.html

Today, more than six months after the tragedy, DIMIA is still procrastinating over the allocation of visas to its Australia's share of the survivors, Australia was allocated eight out of the forty four survivors, to date, only two have been granted visas and have arrived in Australia.

TPVs also create a second-class culture, with children and adults knowing that their visa will expire in three years and that they have to apply again, children whose applications for visa renewal are not accepted will have to be unsettled and deported to another country.

There are also asylum seekers who had been in detention for up to four years and they have not seen their children nor have they seen by their children and have not received information about their children for the duration of this period. [9]

CONCLUDING RECOMMENDATIONS

I appreciate that Australia has an obligation to protect its boarders and to require asylum seekers entering Australia to identify themselves and show prima facie case as to why they should be extended protection. However I cannot see how the sovereignty or protection of our boarders is advanced by incarcerating children and adults indefinitely. I strongly advocate that all people seeking asylum, but especially children be placed in the community. Children should be immediately released with their parents after their application for protection has been quickly assessed.

Incidents such as the one at Port Headland on the 31st of May 2001 need to be independently investigated. An independent investigation is necessitated by the lack of transparency in the management of IDCs in Australia. This is in contravention of Article 3(3) of the Convention of the Rights of the Child which states that: "Parties shall ensure that the institutions, services and facilities responsible for the care or protection of children shall conform with the standards established by competent authorities, particularly in the areas of safety, health, in the number and suitability of their staff, as well as competent supervision". This article requires Australia to set standards and to ensure these standards are met in all institutions, services and facilities through appropriate monitoring. At present there is no independent body in Australia charged with monitoring IDCs with the power to compel changes to detention practices where they are warranted. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, the Commonwealth Ombudsman as well as Parliamentary committees and Ministerial advisory groups can inspect detention facilities with prior Ministerial approval, but cannot compel changes to detention practices. In the meantime DIMIA cannot objectively assess its own performance or that of ACM. There is no incentive for DIMIA to compel ACM to investigate or remedy gross violations of human rights, such as those that I have just outlined.

With regard to the alleged assault at Curtain IDC, preventive strategies should be taken in relation to child asylum seekers who may face sexual violence or assault in IDCs. Women and Children should be housed separately from unrelated adult men. Article 37(c) of the Convention of the Rights of the Child states that detained, children should be "separated from adults unless it is considered in the child's best interest not to do so". If woman and children cannot be immediately released into the community, the processing of women and children asylum seekers' applications for refugee status should be expedited. If Australia is going to place people in incarceration for long periods of time it needs to take seriously the responsibilities that come with this policy.

Health care for detained asylum seekers should be investigated and appropriate measures to be put in place to insure that detainees have the same level of access to medical staff as the general community.

TPVs must be granted travel privileges and rights to family reunion. The system of TPVs must be scrapped and people who are found to be genuine asylum seekers must be granted full rights of permanent protection.

Nobody should be placed in detention indefinitely, their should be free access to legal aid, every effort should be made to re-establish contact between children of asylum seekers and their parents inside the detention centres. No person should remain in detention for over a year, the provision under natural justice that entitle undetermined detained asylum seekers to a bridging visa should be invoked automatically if no decision is made in their case.


END NOTES

  1. Article 2, UN Convention of the Rights of the Child. Article 30 of the Convention. Article 30 effectively replicates article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which in turn emphasises the right of persons belonging to "ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities" to the enjoyment of their own distinctive culture. Article 27 ICCPR provides: "In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language."
  2. Articles 5, and 18, UN Convention of the Rights of the Child. This right persists unless there is clear evidence of abuse or neglect, in which case the State is expected to intervene to protect the child; see articles 19, 34 and 39, Convention of the Rights of the Child. Under article 3, Australia is obliged to promote the best interests of the child.
  3. "Iranian Refugee Finds Christ in Detention", Southern Cross Magazine, April, 2002, front page.
  4. ABC Radio National, 'The Religion Report',. 8.30 pm, Wednesday the 20th of February, 2002. http://www.abc.net.au/rn/talks/8.30/relrpt/stories/s485645.htm
  5. This was not the first time steel batons had been used they said. They had managed to confiscate one baton on an earlier occasion and they hid this. They said that they would be willing to hand this steel baton to independent investigators.
  6. Article 34 provides: "States Parties undertake to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. For these purposes, States Parties shall in particular take all appropriate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent:
    1. The inducement or coercion of a child to engage in any unlawful sexual activity;
    2. The exploitative use of children in prostitution or other unlawful sexual practices;
    3. The exploitative use of children in pornographic performances and materials."
  7. At the time of the assault this family had been in detention in Australia for 11 months. Under immigration law, if their case was not determined within six months, they are entitled to be given a bridging visa until their case is determined. When their lawyer invoked this provision of the legislation, DIMIA rushed through a decision to reject their application for asylum. The appeal against this decision was heard on Monday the 18th of February and Tuesday the 19th of Feb. The appeal was successful and the decision was handed on 20 Feb. I wrote a letter to the minister requesting the urgent release of the family on the ground that they were found to be genuine asylum seekers. Appendix 3 contains my letter to the Minister re. this. We are now in May, more than two months after the decision of the appeal was handed down and this family is still in Curtin IDC.
  8. I have recieved many complaints about the inadequate level of health care available in IDCs. Of particular concern is the fact that a nurse is the first health practitioner which detainees can see. They sometimes have to wait for months to see a qualified doctor. A woman with kidney problems for example had to wait ten days to see a doctor. There are many conditions which nurses fail to diagnose or are unable to treat. Medicines which are only available on a doctor's prescription can obviously not be obtained from a nurse. This may explain the high level of Panadol administered in IDCs and the advice to "drink water" as a cure-all. One detainee reported that she was told that she would have to pay for the flying doctor service if she wanted to get her child who had pneumonia to be seen by a specialist at a hospital. The Parliamentary Secretary to minister Ruddock, Senator Kay Paterson denied that the detainee had been told she must pay for the service. Senator Paterson's letter is available upon request. The detainee asserts that she was told this by IDC staff. Her statement is given weight by the shared aim of both the IDC management and the Australian government of minimizing expenditure on detainees, including expenditure on their health. It may have been that staff told the sick boy's mother that she would have to pay because they believed this to be the case, or because they wanted to dissuade her if they believed ACM would have to foot the bill. In any case the current poor levels of health care in Australian IDCs contravene Article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child which states that: "States Parties recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health. States Parties shall strive to ensure that no child is deprived of his or her right of access to such health care services." Furthermore, the World Health Organisation's definition of "health" in the Preamble to the Constitution of the World Health Organisation states that: "The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health." Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights states that "Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity".
  9. I was advised by an asylum seeker at Curtin, [name removed] that he had not seen his family nor does he know their whereabouts, he has only received news from three of his children who were granted asylum in London. [Name removed] is another Curtin Detainee who does not know anything about his four children, he has been in detention for three years, with no idea of when or if he will be released, deported or given a visa.

Appendix 1

The Hon. Philip Ruddock MP
Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs
Suite MF 40 Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600
14 April 2000

Dear Mr. Ruddock

Request for appropriate prayer space, Stage 1, Villawood IDC

A request has been submitted to our association seeking a letter of support regarding prayer space in stage 1 of Villawood IDC. In view of the large number of Muslim detainees in stage 1, the present facilities at Villawood are inadequate for the purpose.

As you may be aware, religious observances play an important part in the life of a Muslim. In detention, religious observance becomes crucial in that it allows the detainee to fill his time in a peaceful wholesome manner. The availability of adequate prayer specific facilities ensures that the detainee will devote more of his time to religious devotion rather than feel agitated over the length and uncertainty of the stay. Such facilities are not only important for the formal obligatory congregational prayers, they are also important for other acts of worship, such as Qur`an recitation and religious talks and advice. We would be pleased to provide copies of the Qur`an for the use of the detainees in such a facility free of charge. We seek your assistance in setting aside a prayer room of adequate size to accommodate all the Muslim detainees in stage 1 of Villawood IDC.

Thank you for your consideration, I can be contacted on 0410 42 43 46 for any further information.

Yours faithfully

Keysar Trad
Welfare, religion and public relations executive
cc Manager ACM, Villawood IDC


Appendix 2

13 July 2000

Dear [Villawood ACM Manager]

I recently sat with Mr. Philip Ruddock, the Minister for Immigration. We discussed a number of refugee issues that pertain to all the detention centres in Australia. Mr. Ruddock explained his viewpoint well and we agreed that there is a necessity for cooperation between the ethnic communities and DIMA in order to resolve this situation within the requirements of the Australian immigration laws. In this spirit of cooperation, I request your assistance to visit all the Muslim detainees in both Stages 1 and 2 to spend a short time with them for spiritual and ethical guidance. I would also like to hand to yourself a letter with respect to one of the detainees. Your urgent reply and assistance in booking a visit for myself and my assistant would help in establishing this process of cooperation and understanding.

Yours faithfully

[Name removed]

Mufty of Australia


Appendix 3

The Letter to the Minister

The Honourable Philip Ruddock
Minister for Immigration
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

25 February 2002

Dear Mr. Ruddock

Urgent - Re. [Name removed] Family - Curtin IRPC

Files in your office would indicate that the original decision in the above matter was set aside by the RRT on 20 February 2002.

This family has been in detention for almost one full year. In detention, members of the family suffered illness, I wrote to your office about this last year. They have also been subjected to sexual harassment and most recently, a [young child] of the family alleged that he had been raped both orally and anally by several Sri Lankan detainees. The child described his ordeal in graphic detail he experienced anal bleeding for several days after the alleged incident and continues to experience nightmares as a result of the alleged sexual assault.

The family has endured much hardship, the children have been from one refugee camp to another for several years now with their detention culminating in Curtin for most of 2001 and part of 2002. In view of the favourable decision by the RRT and in the interest of the children and the safety and well being of the family, we request that the family's release is not delayed any further and that as a gesture of goodwill from the department, that the [name deleted] family be given a visa and released this week so that they can be reunited with their other family members in Sydney.

Yours sincerely

Keysar Trad

Acting President


Appendix 5

Manager Dima
Curtin Detention Centre
Derby

Dear Sir

Re. [name removed] son of [name removed]

[Name removed] is [age removed], he is an asylum seeker presently detained at the Curtin Detention Centre. Whilst in Detention, [he] contracted a lung infection, his uncle attended my office with the following information:

[The child] has suffered a lung infection.

DIMA medical staff at the centre have administered Panadol to [the child].

DIMA medical staff advised [the child's] mother that if she wanted proper medical treatment for [the child], she would have to pay for the Royal Flying Doctor Service to take him to hospital.

[The child's] mother called her family in Sydney (all Australian citizens) seeking help.

I previously wrote to your office with respect to [this child] and his family.

To allow [his] medical condition to deteriorate to this stage is totally unacceptable. Urgent proper medical treatment must be administered to [the child] immediately. We demand that DIMA take [the child] to a hospital where he can receive this treatment as a matter of urgency.

Yours faithfully

Keysar Trad
Vice President

Cc - Office of the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs
Office of the Shadow Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs
Office of the Hon. Laurie Ferguson, Federal member for Reid

(faxed on 30 July 2001)

Last Updated 14 July 2003.