HREOC Website: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention
Transcript of Hearing - BRISBANE
Monday 5 August 2002
Please note: This is an edited transcript
DR SEV OZDOWSKI, Human Rights Commissioner
MRS ROBIN SULLIVAN, Queensland Children's Commissioner
THOMAS, Professor of Psychology
Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology
MS VANESSA LESNIE, Secretary to the Inquiry
DR OZDOWSKI: I would like to formally open this public hearing which is one of a series of hearings conducted around Australia and I think it's possibly the last one which involves the public. We will have further hearings for Immigration officials and ACM officials. My name is Sev Ozdowski and I am the Human Rights Commissioner of Australia and I have two Assistant Commissioners assisting me with this Inquiry.
On my right is Professor Trang Thomas, Professor of Psychology at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and on my left Mrs Robin Sullivan, who is also the Queensland Children's Commissioner. Before the hearing commences I would like to note the following matters. First, the issue of confidentiality and privacy. The Commission believes it is important to respect the privacy of individuals and to protect children in particular. Even where individual cases have been made public elsewhere, individual's names should not be named in this hearing.
And as a matter of fact I issued a number of directions to protect the security and privacy of people and the effect of these orders is that the identity of Mr X is not to be disclosed during the hearings. Second, that the identity of any other person who requests anonymity is not to be disclosed. And third, that the identity of any third parties is not to be disclosed and this includes current or former employees at detention centres and these people shouldn't be named because they have not had the opportunity to defend themselves against allegations which could be made.
I therefore also would like to ask the media to adhere to the following: that when witnesses request not to be identified by name or photograph even though they may have given public evidence, please respect this request. When filming please respect the wishes of those who may not want to be included in any background shots. Now, I would like to invite our first witness, Mrs Jane Delaney-John from Access Childcare Equity Supports Program. Welcome to the hearings.
MRS J. DELANEY-JOHN: Thank you.
DR OZDOWSKI: The role of the Commission is to test evidence which was provided in the submissions and to elicit further information, so I will ask you a number of questions and also my Assistant Commissioners will do the same. And if you feel that you don't understand the questions just please ask. I will try to rephrase them, but to start with I would like to ask you to take an oath or affirmation and I will ask Ms Vanessa Lesnie, who is Secretary to the Inquiry, to administer it.
MRS J. DELANEY-JOHN: Just the affirmation, thank you.
JANE DELANEY-JOHN [8.34am]
Diversity in Child Care, Queensland Access Program
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you. Now, could I ask you for the record to give your name, address, qualifications and the capacity in which you are appearing?
MS DELANEY-JOHN: My name is Jane Delaney-John and I'm the program manager of the Access Program, which is a program of Diversity in Child Care, Queensland. My home address is [address removed]. I am early childhood trained, with more than 10 years' experience working with refugee children and migrant children in the inclusion needs of those children into child care services.
DR OZDOWSKI: And now I would like to remind you again about the orders I made about privacy. If you would like to mention some names, please provide them to the Secretary to the Inquiry after the hearings. Sometimes it may be necessary to do so in order so we can follow through documentary material to establish what the full circumstances of individual cases are. Now, could I ask you to make an opening statement and in particular I would like to ask you to say something about the children's services you are providing and what we are particularly interested in are kids on TPVs with whom you have contact. We would like to establish the level of your expertise with children on TPVs.
MS DELANEY-JOHN: Okay. Access is a Commonwealth-funded supplementary service program and our main charter is to support families to access children's services of their choice, Commonwealth-funded children's services of their choice, and to support child care services in the inclusion needs of children into those care arrangements. Those care arrangements can be ongoing support over a period of time, depending on the individual needs of children so some can be shorter periods of time and others can extend for more than 18 months of support or beyond.
With the children that we've provided support in the last year we have provided support for children from all migration status, but within that there has been 99 children who are refugee children and there are 45 children who are actually temporary protection visa. In addition to the support provided within the children's services, there are home visits that take place where there's observations of children that take place, and also we have a subcontract where we've actually been providing the creche situation for the children at Harmony Place, the ethnic mental health, where staff have actually been looking at the inclusion needs of children and providing a creche play environment for those children.
DR OZDOWSKI: So if I understand correctly, you are basically a referral service to various child care services providers and you are financed by the Commonwealth.
MS DELANEY-JOHN: Yes, but in addition to that we actually look at the inclusion needs of the children; what is actually happening in the range of behaviours, what are the linguistic needs of the children, what are the cultural and spiritual needs of the children and are there other stressors or traumas that might actually be not conducive to sound development for children, and it's actually about upskilling and giving the staff confidence to be able to create those bonds and relationships with the children and their parents and also to look at the daily care needs of those children.
DR OZDOWSKI: What ages of children are you dealing with?
MS DELANEY-JOHN: We cover the age of birth through to 13 years of age.
DR OZDOWSKI: Could you say something about your experience with the 45 kids who were TPVs and especially you mentioned in your submission that there are a number of behaviours which were of concern to you. Could you perhaps say a bit more about that?
MS DELANEY-JOHN: Okay. While I think it's fair to state that the ranges of behaviours that I'm presenting today we have seen in evidence for children who are refugee children, one of the factors which I think bears some heightened examination is that for the children who are refugee experience, we've provided 140 hours to 16 hours of inclusion support, depending on the needs of children, compared to the children who are TPVs, which is 200 hours to 30 hours. Also, the elongated levels of distress that occurs with the children. With the behaviours of the children, sleeping difficulties where babies are waking because they are crying, not that they're actually waking and then crying, is quite readily observed. Children taking a long time to settle and then sleeping lightly and they're quite watchful and afraid to go to sleep within the services and some of the children are exhibiting signs of rocking continuously. The period of time in which that has actually been occurring has been quite extended.
Now, while there has been some reduction in these behaviours while children have been bonding, the length of time really is what we'd like to note, and there are four children particularly who appear to wake up and appear sad. They have slumped features and stance and have no interest in actually participating or moving around and continue to show those kinds of signs and behaviour. There are some over-dependent behaviours and they have a high level of autonomy so they are not actually interacting in a co-operative way. They seem to value the autonomy in the way that they're behaving.
What we've noted particularly is that children are constantly watchful of others and also visitors to any services and situations. This has been observed both within services and within home visits, even though we might have made repeated visits to those homes and made relationships with families. There are some levels of aggression in the children aged from four to seven years particularly and while that might not be considered for some children, to have some aggressive tendencies, in three of the children aggression was observed at times when children returned from outdoor play and only at these times.
So when we're looking at the individual needs of children with aggression, we try to observe the periods of time in which children are much more challenging, and we try and actually work out those times that we actually can see how we could modify environments of approaches and those sorts of things. So it actually was quite interesting that - the children were actually being observed as they were coming from the outdoor play to the indoor play; there was some aggressive tendencies occurring then. There's some withdrawn behaviours to children, and children particularly not wanting to be touched, and also some excessive hiding, where children are continually looking for little hidey holes, and having to spend quite some time developing programs where children can actually, you know, play where they're remaining and encourage them to participate in the broader environment.
And while it's agreed that these behaviours can be observed in refugee children, the number of children in the cohort of claimants is higher where behaviour is quite overt and the length of time is longer for the children that we're talking about. There also appears to be a little bit more difficulty to interact and relate to others, and that while good quality childcare plays a strong role in supporting children and their families, the needs of the children have been actually quite challenging. Some of the children have also been continually unwell, and they're complaining of stomach pains, listlessness, and lack of appetite at various times.
Within the creche, there are only approximately three to four children attending one afternoon a week. And they - all the children there are exhibiting restlessness, even with two staff members and with parents on the site. It's quite an energetic session where the children really flit from one thing to another, not really taking very much in terms of direction; not really engaging in play for any length of time; and quite watchful. Again, avoid being touched, and want to repeatedly check that mum is still with them.
So they're the range of behaviours that we've been observing in the children specifically, and while with some children - because we've been providing supports for over a year now - there has been some reduction, at varying times we're actually seeing re-stresses, or if there's a change in the environments or slight differences to the numbers of children - you know, changes in the rooms - children reverting back to a range of behaviours. So there's quite a lot of passive play as well that occurs, where children are really kind of more observing play than actually engaging in play.
DR OZDOWSKI: Could I ask you how the frequency of these behaviours compares with the frequency of something like behaviours in broader population.
MS DELANEY-JOHN: Okay. Within the year we've supported 1025 immigrant children, so children are coming from cultural linguistically diverse backgrounds, not necessarily in care environments where they have staff who can interest and bond with the children very readily. Their behaviours are different in that we have children with separation anxiety, and that can be any child who has a separation from their parent because parents are going to English classes or vocational training, or it might be some counselling services. But the difference particularly that we've noted is that the separation anxiety appears to be heightened, and it appears to go for a lot longer in time.
We have had a couple of children actually vomiting from the separation that has occurred. And it also is to be noted that with five of the children particularly, one of the difficulties has been the crucial shortage of childcare, so I know that there is another impact. It's not necessarily in relation to an experience in a detention centre, but perhaps the ongoing trauma of settlement is the - with those five children, they're actually being picked up from their home from by a service of the childcare service and taken to the childcare centre.
DR OZDOWSKI: Is there a difference in level of services available to kids on TPV in comparison with other kids? No
MS DELANEY-JOHN: No.
DR OZDOWSKI: they are exactly the same.
MS DELANEY-JOHN: No. The services available are exactly the same. The availability of spaces, which is critical shortage, is exactly the same. There's a lot more work into trying to access those services and make them affordable for the families and the parents. Out of the children who were placed in care, there was - some children were absolutely relocated to services. One child was relocated three times; one was relocated five times; with unsettled behaviours. Some children are actually in two quite different environments during the week, so they might be in a pre-school for some of the time and they might be in a childcare service for some of the time, and both services are actually experiencing similar levels of behaviours.
So if, for example, the child is quite watchful and restless and not really interacting, we're actually finding that similar behaviours are occurring in either service regardless of which environment the child is in.
DR OZDOWSKI: Perhaps I will ask now Professor Thomas to ask you some questions.
PROF THOMAS: Ms Delaney-John, the children - do they get formal assessment so that they can be referred for formal intervention?
MS DELANEY-JOHN: Formal assessment is quite difficult. Some of the families are actually receiving torture and trauma counselling services.
PROF THOMAS: Yes.
MS DELANEY-JOHN: Of the children and families, we have six families definitely receiving torture and trauma counselling. The difficulty is any formal programs of - whether it be touch therapy or music therapy or any other therapy for that matter - dance therapy - it's not been forthcoming in a great way for the children. So the formal assessment has - is a difficult road to take. The formal assessment for any child, I must note - any refugee child - even though we have the special needs subsidy scheme of the Commonwealth, there have only been two children approved through that system.
PROF THOMAS: So is there any difference between the treatment and the help that the refugee children receive and the children who are from - are still on TPVs?
MS DELANEY-JOHN: There hasn't been a difference in help. What there has been is a difference in the time being spent to support the children, looking at inclusion needs. But in terms of assessment the systems are fairly weak for any child who has experienced war torn torture and trauma. And that's across the board in Queensland.
PROF THOMAS: And how about the mothers? Do they get support?
MS DELANEY-JOHN: Some of the mothers are attending the torture and trauma counselling service, as I'd said. Also other mothers who are going to, yes, I think mental health at Harmony Place for their English classes - like a conversational English class which is also a little bit of a social kind of gathering. Both Harmony Place and ourselves are looking at an application at the moment to go in to have a formal program for the children, which will be based on touch therapy and dance therapy.
PROF THOMAS: Of the children that you have observed, what is the longest time you have had to observe the children? I just want to see that long-term impact.
MS DELANEY-JOHN: Over a period of 13 months.
DR OZDOWSKI: So you see any improvement; any change at the end of 13 months?
MS DELANEY-JOHN: We've seen an increased bonding and a relaxation by some of the children, but then it can - there can be some regressions occurring and it also depends on how the families are feeling in relation to what they've articulated as long-term security or other issues that have been occurring for the family. So the children can be creating those bonds and then, for example, with some children there's been a change of staff member and those sorts of things so that's had another effect for the children. So we're sort of seeing three steps forward and two steps back and that sort of behaviour that's occurring with the children. As I said in the letter I sent you, I really can't state evidence that the children have been singly affected in relation to the detention centre. What I'm able to do is to bring to the table the behaviours that we've actually observed in the children in the length of time that's occurred, and with that and the other evidence that you receive to actually weight that.
DR OZDOWSKI: Are you saying you are not sure whether there's a linkage between the behaviour and the fact of being detained?
MS DELANEY-JOHN: We see the restlessness and the behaviours where children react when the gates get closed in the childcare centres. Most childcare services have the pool gates. We've also observed those behaviours in some of the refugee families as well, so we've done a lot of observation and worked with refugee families for five years, so while we are seeing some of the behaviours in the refugee children as well, there is much more challenge in working with the children who have come from the detention centres, and the ongoing distress for the families has - we believe also has an impact for the children. So I suppose I'm trying to be as frank as possible. With the children, one thing that did occur in relation to getting some materials together for this Inquiry was we sat down and we were looking at the statistics and the staff sat back and couldn't believe really that we were servicing 43 children because from their experiencing levels of stress in relation to the level of workload that had occurred for temporary protection of these children, and they had - it was only when we looked at it collectively that they realised they'd actually been supporting more refugee children, but the work level for the TPV children has been much higher. The work level also with the families and the observations in their homes where there doesn't appear to be huge changes in the behaviour of anxieties that are occurring.
DR OZDOWSKI: What percentage of TPV children would you handle out of 100 persons residing here in Queensland - what percentage of them would go through your hands?
MS DELANEY-JOHN: I wouldn't be able to state that. We have over 20 referral services that refer children to us and their families. I could only really comment on the 40 that
DR OZDOWSKI: That you met.
MS DELANEY-JOHN: Yes.
PROF THOMAS: You support culturally diverse children, so do you have also migrant children or children from - children who were born in Australia, but have migrant parents. Do you see the difference between these
MS DELANEY-JOHN: We don't see these range of behaviours. We see some separation anxiety. For some children who have come from business visas we do see children who will vomit due to separation anxiety, but they will have less ranges of behaviours. Some of the children have the sleeping - the withdrawal, the excessive hiding, the reaction to the gates, the watchfulness. They have a combination of those behaviours occurring for them, whereas with some of the children who may have separation anxiety they're exhibiting some withdrawn behaviours but an interest in observing children. So there is a difference in the way that they're actually observing what is happening. They don't appear to be jumpy and, you know, watchful and looking to see who's coming through the doors; those sorts of things. So the behaviours are quite different, and so the work undertaken for the inclusion of those children is definitely a lot less hours as well. Service providers are able to bond more readily with the children.
PROF THOMAS: Did you observe any difference in the mother/child interaction, you know, all these dyads?
MS DELANEY-JOHN: Well, obviously with the - we support - I think the most in the year that we've supported is 53 community language and within that there's diversity in parenting. However, if we're looking at the families we have some families where the children are quite clingy and bonded to families, but there does appear to be less touch, which may have some cultural practice in that, but it's - there is more disconnection in some respects. Families have indicated high levels of distress and their ability to perhaps engage in a very relaxed way with their children can have an effect. So we've seen children who are being collected by services from their homes and we've seen other children who were taken into the care situation by their families and parents have expressed the pressures that they're experiencing. And the sleeplessness that can occur because their children are sleepless.
PROF THOMAS: But over time, have you observed the mother/child interaction, because sometimes if the mother settles down and improves, that could have an impact on the children?
MS DELANEY-JOHN: Definitely. However, when we're looking at the children in the creche, those children are exhibiting restlessness, high levels of restlessness. It's - you know, staff are coming back. We've only got three to four children with two staff, and we've got parents on site, and the staff are coming back quite exhausted after those sessions and we're looking at ways to actually engage them more in play, yes. So the difficulty with stress is that you can have other factors on the long-term basis which affect families and the way that they're coping with those changes and the families have been expressing high levels of stress and so their ability to be relaxed with their children is affected.
PROF THOMAS: So do you have any recommendations for us?
MS DELANEY-JOHN: Yes, I do.
PROF THOMAS: More services?
MS DELANEY-JOHN: Really in Australia, and particularly in Queensland, we have only done some recent studies since 1997 in relation to children with post-traumatic stress and we really haven't got very good services that really respond to children and their psychological wellbeing even for refugee children. So if the government is to embark on continuing to detain children, given that there hasn't been enough work done, even though the body of evidence is showing that children are showing quite high signs of post-traumatic stress and they can have long-term mental health issues, I strongly do not believe that detention centres are the ideal environments for children and we're talking about children who are quite innocent of the politics that go on and the effects that occur and we're seeing through the expression also of parents the loss of childhoods and what effect that has for children. Detention centres are not an environment of supportive developmental childhood and I think it needs to be urgently addressed.
If there is going to be any reception areas, I do believe strongly that counsellors and therapists and early-childhood practitioners should come to the table to look at play in environmental centres which would be much more appropriate and supportive of family and children, and I would hope that, at the end of this Inquiry, that there can be some addressing of this.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you.
MS DELANEY-JOHN: I have tried not to be emotive, but it is very hard not to be emotive when we are talking about children.
DR OZDOWSKI: Just one more question.
MRS SULLIVAN: It's really a follow-up to your recommendations. You make quite a strong point in your submission about the greater length of time to support these children. Is your recommendation more of the same support or is it different support. I'm trying to think of a case management approach for these children. So is it just more of what we've already got or are you looking at more an alternative case management approach?
MS DELANEY-JOHN: I believe there needs to be specific early-childhood supported programs for the children. I would hope that the Inquiry is able to address what's actually happening for children now and in the future. So I suppose I see it as two things: one is about the detention of children which I think I've sort of stated fairly clearly my opinion on that, but also in relation to children who have come out of those services. I do believe that specific programs with smaller numbers of children with special supports of therapy and early-childhood, with family support so there is actually a family participation so that the resiliency is being built up in children and in their families and I think clear programs of resiliency need to be put into place. I don't believe that they're adequate or well-resourced at this point in time for the children. For that matter, I don't see that in place also for refugee children and I do believe that there are some steps that are needed within any settlement of children who have experienced war and war-torn torture and trauma, and environments of detention require those kinds of supports.
DR OZDOWSKI: Just a last question. The Department of Immigration has advised us that every child in a detention facility is case managed and that they are quite actively case managed. Did you see any evidence of it? Were any files transmitted to you?
MS DELANEY-JOHN: No.
DR OZDOWSKI: Nothing? Any indications
MS DELANEY-JOHN: Not one. Not one piece of document
DR OZDOWSKI: of information?
MS DELANEY-JOHN: Nothing - no information. I mean to say, we don't even know who's coming to Queensland. There is no transferral information, no information in relation to what programs were observed, what areas of concern for children's behaviour, any interventional or preventative or other supports that have taken place which we might be able to continue in any shape or form.
DR OZDOWSKI: Did you try to contact the department to access some records relating to particular children?
MS DELANEY-JOHN: There has been some contact and we've found it incredibly frustrating. So what we did is we basically worked with a clean slate when the children
DR OZDOWSKI: Why did you find contact frustrating?
MS DELANEY-JOHN: Who to contact, how it gets passed on, the perceptions of the Privacy Act of not passing on - it's quite - it was actually taking more time than what we actually had available to us which we needed to spend for the children. So there needs to be some transferral process in place. There needs to be some mechanisms in which that information can be shared. Even for children who actually were ill - we had some children which we had to rush to hospital who had been sick for some time and they had fevers and it had been going on for too long. Just being able to receive the information in relation to children
DR OZDOWSKI: To medical records of children?
MS DELANEY-JOHN: to the medical records of the children had been difficult as well. So it's been one of the hardest group of children, really, in terms of being able to respond appropriately to their needs and, in some respects, I feel that while we have attempted to do so, we have still managed to do that poorly.
DR OZDOWSKI: Ms Delaney-John, thank you for your evidence. One more question here from Professor Thomas.
PROF THOMAS: During the time that you have been helping these children, any of the families have sort of disappeared without notifying you?
MS DELANEY-JOHN: They've - I'm not quite sure what you are meaning there.
PROF THOMAS: One of the suggestions that have been made to us is that families while they are on the TPV may disappear, abscond, go into hiding.
MS DELANEY-JOHN: No.
PROF THOMAS: So have you ever had that experience?
MS DELANEY-JOHN: No. I mean to say, all the families that we have here, we have - even though they might have moved services, for example, one's moved five times within early-childhood - we still know their addresses, we still know where they live and if a parent has moved because there has been issued over accommodation and being able to settle, it's always come back to us in that - and even a couple of families who have moved, you know, have let us know so that, in my experience and in the experience of access, we have not seen that kind of behaviour at all.
PROF THOMAS: Thank you.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you very much for your evidence and for your submission.
MS DELANEY-JOHN: Thank you. Good luck with the Inquiry.
DR OZDOWSKI: And now I would like to ask Brisbane Refugee Health Network and the Refugee Claimant Support Centre to approach the table. Welcome. Could I ask you to take an oath or affirmation?
ROHAN VORA [9.09am]
Brisbane Refugee Health Network
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you. Now, could I ask you to give your names, addresses, qualifications and the capacity you are in here?
MS HEUFT: My name is Gaby Heuft. I live at [address removed]. I am a member of the Health Network and also the co-ordinator at the Refugee Claimant Support Centre in Lutwyche.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you.
MS SALOM: My name is Margot Salom. I live at [address removed]. I am a medical and psychiatric social worker of 30 years experience and I am the health co-ordinator co-ordinating the Nursing Outreach Team at Brisbane Refugee Health Network.
DR VORA: I am Rohan Vora. I am a qualified doctor, a Fellow of the Royal Australian College of GPs. I live at [address removed] and I guess I am the medical co-ordinator for the Brisbane Refugee and Asylum Health Network.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you very much. Could I ask you, perhaps, to start with an opening statement and what I would like to ask you is to especially say a bit more about the Refugee Health Network, how you came into being, who finances you and also to indicate the level of contact you have with TPV children.
DR VORA: We came into being, I guess, about two years ago. We have actually had a minor name change since the submission where we are now called the Brisbane Refugee and Asylum Seeker Health Network. There are two reasons for this: one was to reflect more, I guess, the wide range of our work and cover all the groups we deal with and the other was to link with a sister group down in Melbourne called the Refugee and Asylum Seeker Health Network. We are also affiliated with the Darwin Refugee Health Network. We have a membership of about 70-strong in Brisbane itself plus many others outside in regional Queensland.
DR OZDOWSKI: 70 individuals?
DR VORA: 70 individuals. Most of us are professional health workers and allied health workers as well as community and development workers working in the area with a special interest in asylum seeker and refugee health. I guess our main focus has always been that we see ourselves as focusing on the health and human rights issues of this severely marginalised - or what we believe to be a severely marginalised group of people in Australia. We are informed in our vision, I guess, by the same sorts of documents that the Physicians for Human Rights Group that we have close contact with in the USA have been informed with. If I could just read briefly out of their vision statement where they say:
The right to health extends to all things which promote health and well-being and prevent illness. Health professionals hold a well-acknowledged commitment to the care of their patients. Discriminatory practices threaten physical and mental health and deny people access to reasonable care, or relegate them to inferior care. The devaluation of human beings and each other has had devastating consequences historically.
And I guess this is really a large part of our sentiment. Our work has been on a lot - besides service provision in terms of trying to set up links and networks with the AMA, with the Royal College of GPs, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, all the other medical and profession bodies in Australia. And as well as now joining with the Australian Nurses Federation, and I'm making a lot of contacts with the dental associations, both locally and nationally. And I guess most of our work in that area has been on the basis that if we, as professionals, start discriminating against people on the basis of visa category in terms of either offering them inferior care or not offering them care at all, we really slide down a very slippery slope for which there's a lot of historical evidence; that we no longer are really practising ethical health care. We're practising politics.
And once we go down this slope as a profession, the evidence is certainly there around the world, of where that is going to lead. And I guess that has been the basis of our work with the AMA, and most of the ethical associations in the college of GPs, the College of Physicians and the College of Psychiatrists has been that we really need to get our ethical committees onto the issue of detaining people and what sort of health consequences that has, particularly on the children. Our work in Brisbane has I guess for quite a while been very much focussed on the community based asylum seekers, particularly the 40 or so per cent of those who end up with no work rights, no welfare rights, no Medicare rights. Their children can't go to school.
And the reason for a lot of our efforts in that area is that they inform us, I guess, with what actually happens when you get no access to services whatsoever. And the evidence has gradually been mounting that children in this area are very severely affected. The evidence as presented before by the previous presenter, Jane, is certainly backed up with the work that we've done and we're seeing. The other issue is that we really work in a policy vacuum. In New Zealand, for instance - and I'll just show people the Refugee Health Policy Document. This was launched November last year. It was launched by the Ministry of Health. It's a refugee and asylum seeker health policy. We just do not have that sort of policy in Australia. So it's very hard for us as professionals to work in the area, which is basically totally policy free.
DR OZDOWSKI: Can I stop you for a moment and ask you about how are you financing? Are you financing yourself or you are supported by the Commonwealth or State Government?
DR VORA: We as an organisation are totally self-financed. I guess the reasons for that are that we had not sought funding because we want to maintain our independence.
DR OZDOWSKI: And about the contacts but with TPV children: how - what's your level of contact with TPV children?
DR VORA: We have quite a lot of contact with TPV children and I personally have gone over and done sessions at the Romero Centre which there will be presentations later on from the group there. The involvement there, I guess, of the Network has been in trying to set up services for these children; try and get services to be more refugee friendly. What we found was that people would arrive in Brisbane, and it would take them six weeks to get their Medicare cards. Now, things would go backwards and forwards between Department of Immigration and Medicare and so on, saying, oh well, they will get their cards. GPs can just sit and wait and they'll eventually get financed. But most GPs do not find this particularly acceptable, so that was certainly a barrier where they would then end up going to the emergency departments.
DR OZDOWSKI: You were saying about, in your submission, about third world care for refugees, and your submission was also mentioning that Medicare doesn't cover some services. Could you maybe let us know a bit more what are the areas of service for TPV children which are not covered by Medicare?
DR VORA: Well, Medicare doesn't cover their dental services. It doesn't
DR OZDOWSKI: That's like for most of other Australians, isn't it?
DR VORA: Yes.
DR OZDOWSKI: Where are differences?
DR VORA: Except that most of the dental services - the public dental services will actually cover a lot of Australian children; they were denying access to TPV children.
DR OZDOWSKI: Denying, yes.
DR VORA: To these services, particularly when they didn't have their Medicare card, and what we really found was that for the first six weeks there would be a lot of health problems that would occur during that time because they had saved them up in detention. I mean, we've had people who have arrived and who have had recent operations and really - our trying to get medical records is extremely hard. It's just not like phoning up another health practitioner and doing that.
DR OZDOWSKI: The Department of Immigration is telling us that every person on the release is given some kind of a medical health record sheet and that full documentation is easily available for GPs when they contact the Department of Immigration, but I see it's not your experience.
DR VORA: It's not a question of contacting the Department of Immigration; usually you have to contact a detention centre. From talking to nurses there it would seem that they are told probably late the day before the person is to be released that they are to be released and they have to get all the medical records organised. The evidence that we have is that, yes, they might arrive with a small sheet that says whether they're HIV positive or Hepatitis B positive or need a TB check or whatever, but you get very little else. Now as a GP I find that quite amazing because over 80 per cent of GPs in the country now are computerised to generate a - if you take proper medical records to generate a computer medical record is really a question of a push of the button, and it costs $200 per practitioner for that sort of a program so I don't really see that as being particularly complicated, so it seems strange that it's so hard for us to get medical records for a lot of these people. We've had people arrive with broken arms who were not treated in detention. Now whether that was because it was intentionally not treated or whether it was, as he feared, that he didn't want to tell them about his health problems including his arm pain because he feared that he would then be put in the other category and not be given a temporary protection visa.
DR OZDOWSKI: So you met people who were afraid of indicating their health standards because of the possibility of being kept longer in detention and denied a visa?
DR VORA: That's right, yes. That seems to be a very common fear and whether that's a rational fear or not, I don't know.
DR OZDOWSKI: What kind of condition are people in health wise when they are released from detention centres?
DR VORA: There certainly seems to be a lot of concern. We've had people who have been released with various illnesses that have not been treated. I guess when they get to a severity then they generally will get treated. Mental illness is something that is extremely poorly treated in detention centres, unrecognised, and often is considered from our experience to be something that they're blamed for.
DR OZDOWSKI: Mental illness or also any kind of stress?
DR VORA: Well, mental illness in terms of, I guess, the classics of post-traumatic stress disorder go unrecognised. People come out hyper-vigilant, constantly aroused, sleeping extremely poorly, often severely depressed. It has just gone unrecognised or untreated.
DR OZDOWSKI: Does this condition extend to children?
DR VORA: Yes, the condition certainly does extend to children. I mean, just on a personal level there has been quite a lot of concern really with children feeling totally disempowered and seeing their parents as being disempowered; sleeplessness, bed-wetting even amongst teenagers, even situations where you get young children ruminating about their own mortality and death and asking for their bodies to be returned to their country of origin if they do die; this from an eight year old is quite an alarming
DR OZDOWSKI: In detention, there are quite a number of self-harm incidents among children. Did you observe any self-harm incidents after children were released from detention?
DR VORA: It certainly is prevalent from our experience, and that's where I think it is extremely hard, because we, once again, are working in a policy vacuum where we just don't have the research funding to be able to go and research this group, you know, this marginalised group of people, but certainly as far as the suicidal behaviours; the intensity settles, the depression still remains, because a temporary protection is really a very insecure protection, and particularly we are finding now amongst a lot of the Afghans, particularly the unaccompanied minors, that they just don't feel safe, and a lot of those behaviours are starting to resurrect now.
DR OZDOWSKI: If they were given normal visas as permanent visas, not temporary protection visas, would it assist with their condition? Is their condition treatable, or will they cart it as luggage for the rest of their lives?
DR VORA: Well, I guess we have got to then look at the evidence of other refugee groups that come here with similar evidence of house torture and trauma, and yes, they will exhibit those things in the early phases, but they do seem to settle, and they do seem to gradually get over those. They seem to go on and have some hope - have some sense of purpose about life, and over the years really a lot of those behaviours diminish quite dramatically, but we don't see that in this group. In fact, at the moment, things seem to be getting worse for that group.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you, Dr Vora.
PROF THOMAS: In that sense, do you think that the people who are in the community, the TPVs, because they have no access to so many things, like you have just said, in a way that are they worse off than in detention, because in detention they get dental care, they get medical care to a point, you know, as another issue, but they do get those things; meals.
DR VORA: I don't think any of them would want to go back into detention.
PROF THOMAS: Yes.
DR VORA: I think that they see that as tremendously dehumanising, and degrading. I guess there is one other category that we are not looking at here; people have been in detention, and that's the recent group who are being released on the Safe Haven Visa, 449, and we have had several cases of this. Now, we are not arguing that they shouldn't be released. We think that is an excellent move on the part of the government to release them; however they are being released into the same situation as the community based asylum seekers, where they have no access to work rights, welfare rights, Medicare rights, the kids can't go to school. If you talk to - certainly our evidence is if you talk to them, they don't want to go back, but to be released to then have to beg for absolutely everything is extremely hard and, for children involved in this situation, it's just continues their parents' disempowerment. Often it will change the power relationships within the family. We find, I guess, in the medical area that then if the children do go to school and they get better at their language, than the parents - quite inappropriate use of them as interpreters to the extent where, as we have documented in one case there, was a young child who had to give evidence on the past torture and trauma history of her father which was extremely damaging to the child.
PROF THOMAS: So what would you recommend, that those people who are released should get full rights on - you know?
DR VORA: Yes. I would think that, really, the people who are released should get work rights, welfare rights, certainly access to Medicare and the children should get access to schooling. The vast majority of them want to work. They don't come from countries where they are used to welfare and work, I think, is extremely settling for a lot of people where we've had community-based asylum seekers who've had work rights and then had them withdrawn from them. They deteriorate very rapidly. The going-to-work seemed to be something where they could just put aside all of their other fears and anxieties and not settle, but feel that they had something that they could work towards, that they could then pay for their care, they could pay for various things. They didn't have to beg. So I think that people should be released. Where their refugee status has not been determined, should be released on bridging visas but with full rights.
PROF THOMAS: From the evidence we have been gathering, the mental health issues seem to be enormous. What recommendation do you have for this area?
DR VORA: I think that - yes, the mental health issues are enormous and I think that there should be a policy developed which allows the normal community paediatric services to take on a lot of the issues that we are seeing with children and that the community psychiatric services should be directly involved, should be trained particularly - or have their registrars - and there's a lot of interest in that - trained up in refugee and asylum seeker health. There is a lot of interest within the College in doing that; however, they need a policy developed within which we can all work.
PROF THOMAS: What do you think about the long-term impact of the experience in detention and then the early settlement in terms of mental health? Are you optimistic if they get proper treatment?
DR VORA: Our experience, I guess, is, with these people, they have been through a tremendous amount of trauma in their lives. When we've had them come along to - and amongst them you will get lots of professionals. They are doctors, they are nurses, there are health professionals. When they come along and we talk to them they say, "Hey, look, don't categorise us as having post traumatic stress disorder or depression. We can get over all of this. We'll show you how to get over them. Just give us work rights. Just allow us to settle. You will be surprised what we can get over." And I think that is quite true. I think that they would get over a huge amount of their trauma. Coming into the country and re-traumatising them makes it extremely hard, but, once again, they would probably get over that if we gave them a much more humanitarian way of being able to settle into the country.
PROF THOMAS: How about the children?
DR VORA: And I think the children, once again, if their parents settled, would be able to get over a lot of that trauma, and I think the evidence is there from past refugee families that have been very traumatised and their children have really grown up to take up some of the very high positions in Australia.
MRS SULLIVAN: I want to follow through your New Zealand booklet that you waved around before and ask you, for the record, some scenarios and what the answer to these scenarios is. If a refugee family turned up at a public hospital with a sick child, would they be treated?
DR VORA: If they were a community-based asylum seeker, they may well get turned away. Now, that's not necessarily by the doctor or the triage nurse, it may well be by a secretary who says, "Look, you haven't got a Medicare card; you have to leave." That will be the same, I guess, for the safe-haven visa, and that's what we have been trying to negotiate, and I think fairly successfully, in Brisbane with the major hospitals now. There seems to be a lot more understanding of those issues.
MRS SULLIVAN: So there is currently not a policy directive that says these people are to be treated in the same way as other people?
DR VORA: That's right. There isn't.
MRS SULLIVAN: Okay. If the same family turned up at a GP, would they be treated?
DR VORA: Once again, no. Without a Medicare card, they may well not get treated. With the Medicare cards, they may get treatment. The GPs without the infrastructure support that we have been really pushing for may well decide the case is too complex and they don't want to take it on.
MRS SULLIVAN: That is a prerogative of individual GPs?
DR VORA: That is a prerogative of the individual GP.
MRS SULLIVAN: And would that be changed by a new policy directive?
DR VORA: Yes, because, with a policy directive, just like you've got in New Zealand, you get training that goes on in those areas. There is also then a move to have infrastructure support which we have been pushing for. There are certainly item numbers that have been introduced in Australia to help GPs deal with mental health problems, with diabetics, with asthmatics, with complex health needs, but, with the asylum seeker and refugee population, you've got a complex addition to that in terms of having adequate interpreters and well-trained interpreter services, having community health services willing to provide backup and provide the infrastructure support before you can really access those item numbers.
MRS SULLIVAN: So one of your recommendations to us is additional item number?
DR VORA: No. Probably the infrastructure support that would support the item numbers that we already have in there, and having Medicare card access, and I guess developing a policy where the College of GPs and the various Royal Colleges and certainly the College of Psychiatrists has been very interested in having training for GPs in torture and trauma services in dealing with refugees, and that is going on on the ground level. I mean that's going on in Brisbane; it's going on in Melbourne; it's going on in Sydney.
MRS SULLIVAN: So the college itself has taken some initiative?
DR VORA: The College itself has taken initiative. I've been one of the focus people placed on the College. Now, we're developing our own register of doctors and now we're gradually moving to developing a register of specialists who are interested in the area in providing back up services.
MRS SULLIVAN: The third scenario is access to mental health facilities because we did touch on that earlier. If a family turns up at a health facility to seek mental health support, will that be given?
DR VORA: With the case study that we had in the submission of the community based asylum seeker, that was the third hospital that we tried to get him into. He was obviously extremely psychotic. His neighbours had encouraged us to try and get help and finally the third hospital we managed to get him in. He was at that stage seeing blood on the walls; he was severely depressed, suicidal.
MRS SULLIVAN: What I am trying to tease out here is whether there's special treatment for them given there's a back log of mental health needs anyway? Are they treated any differently?
DR VORA: No, they're not treated differently except that they may not get access. I guess the issues are once again that we need training within the mental health services of some of the special issues of torture and trauma in the asylum seeker and refugee population. And the mental health services have - certainly in Brisbane from my experience - been extremely on side with trying to develop training in these areas, but once again need back up from some sort of policy initiatives.
MRS SULLIVAN: There are some health services provided for children in government schools. There are school nurses for example and there's a certain amount of screening. There are school dental services. Have there been any children to your knowledge denied access to these services?
DR VORA: Well, certainly with the community based asylum seekers, once again, yes, they are denied access to those services. We are working with the dentists and we've got a project at the moment in development with the community paediatricians in Brisbane to work services up that will include them.
MRS SULLIVAN: So if they're enrolled in a state school, they don't go along to the school dental nurse?
DR VORA: As far as I know. I'm
MS HEUFT: I'm not aware of a case that has been turned back, but I'm also not aware of many children attending either so I don't have any statistics.
MRS SULLIVAN: That's fine. I'm just trying to get a feel for the quantum of services.
MS HEUFT: Yes. The issue for community based asylum seekers is that there is no formal right to attend a state school. Most of the children that I'm aware of are enrolled in small private schools because the parents feel the barriers of enrolling the children in a normal state school are just too large, and because of that I suppose the issue of no access to dental vans etcetera has arisen for us.
DR OZDOWSKI: And what each child needs to do after being released from detention centre and arriving in Queensland to get access to a school.
MS HEUFT: Yes. I'm speaking on behalf of community based asylum seekers that have not been in detention but that are living in the community on bridging visas. And their access to schools, Medicare cards and services is different in some respect to TPV children.
DR VORA: And it would be similar to the safe haven visa 449, release from detention.
DR OZDOWSKI: Just last question. You mentioned in your submission wrist and dental x-rays which are being used to determine age and so on, and you challenged the validity of that material. Would it be possible to ask you to provide us with some references to that material? We are looking at the issue and if there is any material and literature about unreliability of this material, could you provide us with references. If not now maybe to take that question on notice and provide us at a later stage.
DR VORA: Yes, I can provide it at a later stage and I've had discussions with the Australian Dental Association particularly some of those that do radiology. The Australian Radiologists Association and the Health Alliance obviously has been interested in this area. I guess most of my scientific type data comes from a Physicians for Human Rights Group in the US that has done a lot of work in this area - and that was the information that I put in the submission - was directly from them. We're trying to get and we just don't have and whether the Commission can help find this evidence is just where it has been used in any way in Australia.
We have evidence from our Canadian contacts that there have certainly been Australian representatives at meetings in the US looking at the use of dental x-rays for age in children. We have some anecdotal evidence of its use in Australia to basically, I guess, to categorise people as being over 18 where they weren't sure of their age so they could then be treated in a different way and not as unaccompanied minors. Now, from my talking with the radiologists' college, there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever and it's totally unscientific to use this on that basis. It's used really only for staging operations to see whether there is any growth potential and that you might do different operations for. But it has no validity whatsoever to use it to decide whether someone is 18 or not.
DR OZDOWSKI: I'm not aware of the use of dental evidence but I'm aware of the use of X-ray wrist - X-ray evidence and that's what we're interested in particularly. Okay, so is there anything else you would like to ask or is that all?
DR VORA: Yes, I'd just like to add that part of the reason for our submission - we're part of the Health Alliance submission, but we were urged to place a separate submission. And part of the reason for that was that we were very strongly looking at community based asylum seekers because our fear at that stage was that more people would be released on some sort of bridging visa and denied access to this. Now, the release - SHV449s has certainly confirmed our fears. And I guess our submission there is that what happens is you release people from detention but you release them to a much more insidious form of detention which is that you release them into a situation where they have to beg for absolutely all their human rights in everything.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you very much. Thank you to Brisbane Refugee Health Network.
MARK HUXSTEP [9.42am]
Former nurse from Woomera
DR OZDOWSKI: Now, could I ask you for the record to give your name, address, qualification and capacity in which you are appearing, please?
MR HUXSTEP: My name is Mark Huxstep. I'm a Registered Nurse. My address is [address removed]. I'm appearing in the capacity of a former nurse at the Woomera Detention Centre.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you. You possibly sat in the audience for some time and you heard my orders relating to the privacy.
MR HUXSTEP: Yes.
DR OZDOWSKI: Basically it's a basic order that we shouldn't be using names here in order to protect privacy of refugees. And if you'd like to provide the names later our Secretary will take them and on some occasions it's good to do so, so we can follow up the case and cross-check the evidence.
MR HUXSTEP: I understand.
DR OZDOWSKI: Could I ask you to start with an opening statement and in particular if you would like to address the length of the association you had with Woomera Detention Centre.
MR HUXSTEP: Certainly. I'm a registered nurse. My background is in critical care nursing - my specialty - that's intensive care, emergency department and operating theatre. I worked at the Woomera Detention Centre from August 2000 - early August 2000 - until mid-February 2001 as a registered nurse.
DR OZDOWSKI: So one could say that you worked in the relatively early stages. Did you maintain any contact with people who were there after you left?
MR HUXSTEP: I have seen some people that were detainees at the time that I was working there since their release, yes.
DR OZDOWSKI: I see. What about the medical people - nursing people - working in Woomera; did you maintain some contact with them?
MR HUXSTEP: Yes, I have.
DR OZDOWSKI: So you would know if there were changes since you worked in the late 2000-2001?
MR HUXSTEP: People that I've maintained contact with haven't returned to work at Woomera since they finished working there, so I'm not aware of specifically any changes.
DR OZDOWSKI: Could I ask you also why you left Woomera? You had, as I understand, three 6 weeks contract over there and then I think you decided not to seek renewal?
MR HUXSTEP: That's correct. I was offered ongoing contracts with ACM Australasian Correctional Management at the Woomera Detention Centre but I declined to accept them because I found that the work was having a mental effect on me, it was distressing me and I was unable to sustain that type of work.
DR OZDOWSKI: What do you mean that type of work? What do you mean that it was having an impact on you?
MR HUXSTEP: I found witnessing people in that environment to be emotionally, and mentally, distressing to me. I found that I was unable to change the situation for them and the conflict that arose from that for me was I was unable to sustain it any longer.
DR OZDOWSKI: I understand you were also, for a short time, acting manager in the health centre over there?
MR HUXSTEP: That's correct. The last 5 weeks of my last 6 week contract I was acting manager of the medical centre at the Woomera Detention Centre.
DR OZDOWSKI: And who were you responsible to when you worked as an acting manager?
MR HUXSTEP: I was employed by ACM and I was responsible to the centre manager at Woomera.
DR OZDOWSKI: Could you, perhaps, describe the condition at Woomera and especially how it related to the medical centre?
MR HUXSTEP: The conditions - the environment - is particularly harsh. It's a moon scape. It's dust and rubble. There's no grass inside the compound. There's sparse brush on the red desert outside the compound. There's one tree in the main compound, double palisade fencing around the entire perimeter with razor wire top and bottom. There are different compounds divided up by fences. Quite often there are barriers between the compounds so that detainees can't see, or hear, one another speaking or see each other. It's particularly hot in summer. The main compound: there was a temperature of 61 degree Celsius recorded the summer that I was there and it's bitterly cold at night in winter.
Detainees have to line up at gates with their identification passes with their name and number on it and ask permission to go to the medical centre to seek help for problems - health problems. They have to line up to see DIMA about any problems.
DR OZDOWSKI: How long did they need to wait to get medical progress?
MR HUXSTEP: It depends on the time of day. If people are lining up to go for meals it can take longer. If it is in the night-time after 7 pm there's only one nurse manning the medical centre between 7 pm and 7 am to see the entire population of detainees and the practice, at the time I was there, for the nurse to take medical charts and drugs to different compounds and have a half hour clinic in each one. In those times if somebody from one of the other compounds needed to see a nurse they would have to line up at the gate for their compound to get to the medical centre. Sometimes they waited for hours.
DR OZDOWSKI: For hours to get - to see a nurse or
MR HUXSTEP: To see a nurse. There's no doctor at night.
DR OZDOWSKI: And in terms of seeing a doctor, who was controlling access to the doctors?
MR HUXSTEP: Many people were controlling access. There were guards at the gates. They sometimes made a subjective judgment that people didn't need to see a doctor or a nurse and were turned away, particularly if the guard had a personal relationship with the detainee in which that they dislike them then the acuity of their health problem, if they needed to see a doctor for something that's perceived to be less acute than - we had limited resources - the local GP came to our clinic each morning at Woomera and there was a DIMA doctor who was present through the day and was on call at the week-ends.
DR OZDOWSKI: So what you are saying is that on occasion guards played doctors?
MR HUXSTEP: Sometimes they would make a subjective judgment that the person didn't need to see a doctor or a nurse, yes.
DR OZDOWSKI: Tell me what was the relationship between the doctor and the nurses? We've had information that the person who was in charge of medical centre, and usually it was a nurse, was second-guessing decisions of the doctors. Are you aware of this kind of situation especially when it was coming to more expensive treatment and so on?
MR HUXSTEP: I personally didn't witness that happening, no.
DR OZDOWSKI: So what was the relationship between the doctor and yourself when you were the manager?
MR HUXSTEP: When I was the manager the doctors were more than - I mean, as trained health professionals the patients' health outcomes are our primary focus. I wasn't aware of anyone not getting the treatment that they needed because of the cost. Certainly if there were less expensive treatments available for the same outcome that would be better, but people didn't get - did not get the treatment they needed based solely on cost.
DR OZDOWSKI: On cost. Who is paying in Woomera for the cost of medical treatment which had to be provided outside of which it was a bit out of extraordinary, more expensive?
MR HUXSTEP: I asked that question myself and I was told that ACM would pay the bill and they would be reimbursed by DIMA.
DR OZDOWSKI: I see. So basically the final paying authority was DIMA. So did DIMA have any rules which were limiting the expenditure on medical - did they have a policy?
MR HUXSTEP: They had policies, for example, many people would come to the medical centre with eyesight problems and complain of headaches or poor vision and it fell to me, several times while I was there, to refer them to the GP who would refer them on to a place in Port Augusta for eyesight assessment. And often they would come back with a - the report would come back from the specialist in Port Augusta to say that these people did, indeed, need glasses, for example, prescription glasses. I would send a recommendation-type letter and send it off to the centre manager and it became a practice to send a copy also to the DIMA manager asking that the person be allowed to have glasses and that they pay the bill.
On no occasion during the 18 weeks that I worked there did anyone get glasses that were prescribed them and I was actually admonished by the centre manager through the health centre manager while I wasn't working as the manager there for pursuing the matter and told that people didn't need glasses, they could follow that up after they got released and that our brief was to look after their basic health care needs and not go beyond that.
DR OZDOWSKI: And glasses were not
MR HUXSTEP: Glasses were outside the parameters of what they were prepared to pay for.
MS LESNIE: Do you have any other examples of things that were outside that sort of basic needs category?
MR HUXSTEP: Dental, again. We had a dentist come several times while I was there. It was made on an ad hoc arrangement. There was no routine or specific dates and times that he would come or how many people he could see or how long he could stay and he told me one day that basically his only treatment that he could provide would be extractions. There was no drill or anything like that available. He had no other equipment other than instruments for extracting teeth.
DR OZDOWSKI: Did you have a dental chair at this time?
MR HUXSTEP: No, we did not.
DR OZDOWSKI: So how to extract
MR HUXSTEP: People would sit on a chair and he'd examine them and if extraction was - he felt that that was the most appropriate treatment, and under the circumstances that's all he could provide, he could give them an injection - a local anaesthetic - and remove the tooth.
DR OZDOWSKI: Just a normal chair?
MR HUXSTEP: Just a normal chair, or a stool sometimes. You
MRS SULLIVAN: Have you got any examples where children were denied access to some resources that you just mentioned?
MR HUXSTEP: Children were denied access in several ways, not just directly but also indirectly. For example, there was a child who presented to the medical centre and it just so happened that her mother was a qualified doctor in her country of origin, and the child had painful ear, so the child was given a simple pain killer that evening and referred to the doctor the next morning, who diagnosed an ear infection and put the child on regular pain killers and antibiotics. It was a liquid antibiotic that had to be refrigerated. The detainees aren't allowed to take medications back to their rooms for fear that they will overdose or collect them or whatever the rationale, and so therefore they had to come to the medical centre four times a day to get their medications. That meant coming every six hours with a small child with a sore ear who was crying in the middle of winter at night time, waiting for two hours in a queue at the gate in the freezing cold and it just happened to rain one night, and the mother was terribly distraught. She said, "I'm bringing a sick child to stand in a queue in the cold and the rain for two hours to get treatment," and I had no answer because it was true.
MRS SULLIVAN: You heard comment earlier about medical records. Would you like to comment on that from what you saw and what you saw given to people when they left?
MR HUXSTEP: I wasn't directly involved in that role. DIMA, as it was known at the time, seemed to have very strict control of what the nurses could find out about who would be - whose release was imminent for fear that we would tell them. So therefore that was kept in - behind closed doors. The records were requested sometimes less than 24 hours before a Tuesday or a Thursday morning, which was usually the release time for a whole range of people, not always did any of them get out the next morning or some of them did, some of them didn't, and that was - I took to be a way of us disseminating this information. We didn't know who was going. So consequently the records weren't always complete. I witnessed on many occasions information being put into patients' notes and when I would check some days or weeks later the information that I had put into patients' notes was gone and I would put the same information back into the notes and on one occasion in particular a statement I put into a patient's notes was removed on four separate occasions.
DR OZDOWSKI: Who was removing it?
MR HUXSTEP: I don't know.
MRS SULLIVAN: This was handwritten notes?
MR HUXSTEP: No, it was a typed statement I wrote about an incident pertaining to one particular detainee and I kept a record on the computer in the medical centre which was password protected and each time I would check his notes and the statement wasn't there I would print another copy, sign it, put it in the notes. He was - I think during my second tour at Woomera he was sent to the Perth Detention Centre and I checked his notes before he left and the statement was not there and I put a fifth copy into the notes.
DR OZDOWSKI: Can I ask you where the statements - where the files were kept, they were accessible to everyone?
MR HUXSTEP: They were at one end of the medical centre and there was a red line on the floor and detainees and guards were not supposed to cross the line, but I know for a fact that many times, particularly during night - during the evening when there was one nurse on and we were outside doing clinics in other compounds, that you could come back and find guards sitting there unaccompanied in the medical centre, so I can only presume that they had carte blanche access to the medical records. There was no lock on the filing cabinets.
DR OZDOWSKI: So they were checking - there was no possibility that a detainee was removing the
MR HUXSTEP: No, no, no, no, no.
DR OZDOWSKI: What kind of incident it was?
MR HUXSTEP: It was about him being injected with a sedative, being held down by guards and injected with sedative by another nurse against his will.
DR OZDOWSKI: Was it justified by his behaviour or under what conditions was the sedative given?
MR HUXSTEP: The information I had afterwards was that, no, it wasn't justified.
DR OZDOWSKI: Not justified in medical terms. It was just
MR HUXSTEP: No.
DR OZDOWSKI: used for
MR HUXSTEP: No.
DR OZDOWSKI: the purpose of control
MR HUXSTEP: It was - it was chemical restraint.
DR OZDOWSKI: A chemical restraint. And what was the policy about using chemical restraints? Did you have any kind of formal procedure?
MR HUXSTEP: I never saw a policy on it.
DR OZDOWSKI: So how was it happening? How were chemical restraints used?
MR HUXSTEP: That was on the only incident that I saw. I have anecdotal evidence from other nurses that were there previous to me that it happened on other occasions, but the only incident that I'm personally aware of is in this instance.
DR OZDOWSKI: Did it need to be authorised by a doctor? The issue of the use of chemicals?
MR HUXSTEP: The practice in any health facility is that if you need a doctor's opinion, particularly on giving medications, that you ring the on-call doctor and explain the problem to them and the situation and make any suggestions. They will then prescribe a medication and the route and dosage to be given and a second nurse will take the information - witness the information over the telephone, and then it's written in the medication records as a phone order, and it's given. Within 24 hours a doctor will then sign that order.
The nurse that gave the injection rang the on-call doctor at Roxby Downs who prescribed 100 milligrams of a drug called Largactyl to be given as an intramuscular injection, and I cautioned the nurse to - that I thought the dose was excessive, and I wasn't aware of it being given via that route commonly. She gave it anyway and the detainee was so sedated he had to be brought to the medical centre. The guards had used their plastic handcuffs called flexicuffs. They had cuffed his legs together and his arms behind his back and he was put face-down on a bed in the medical centre and I asked them to please remove the handcuffs and move him onto his side in case he vomited and aspirated.
There was much debate about that and they finally did it. They cuffed him with his hands in front of his body and sat him up. He then proceeded to vomit and I had to suction his airway and apply oxygen to him and I rang an ambulance and sent him to hospital, because I was afraid that he could - his health status could decline.
DR OZDOWSKI: But why he was given this sedative in the first place? Was he
MR HUXSTEP: Because apparently - the story I was told was that he had been made aware by the guards that his application for a temporary protection visa had been unsuccessful and I think it was his second appeal and that he would be going back home. So yelled and screamed a bit and he was put in solitary confinement in Sierra compound and apparently he became quite demonstrative emotionally and yelled a couple of times and banged his head on the wall in frustration. So then the guards held him down and radioed for the nurses to come. The nurse that I was on duty with at the time - I should say the first time I went to Woomera the night shift was two nurses. Subsequent to that it was one.
And I had been at the detention centre at that stage about a week. And she said I should stay in the centre and be available for the other detainees, that she would go and sort the problem out. The guards that manned the Sierra compound normally were from the group that were from the maximum security prison in Brisbane and this nurse apparently is also a career nurse with ACM from that facility. She went off and came back, rang the doctor. I listened to the order and then she went and gave the injection.
DR OZDOWSKI: And then the man was taken by ambulance to hospital, yes, your
MR HUXSTEP: To Woomera Hospital.
DR OZDOWSKI: And how long did he spend there?
MR HUXSTEP: The best part of the evening and then he was sent back when he was assessed that his level of consciousness had returned to an adequate level that he could protect his own airway.
DR OZDOWSKI: And where he was kept then after he was returned to Woomera?
MR HUXSTEP: Back into Sierra compound in
DR OZDOWSKI: Into the separate
MR HUXSTEP: Yes.
DR OZDOWSKI: isolation rooms?
MR HUXSTEP: Yes.
DR OZDOWSKI: And how long did he spend in that isolation?
MR HUXSTEP: As far as I know, he stayed in Sierra - I don't know about isolation, but he stayed in Sierra until he was taken some months later off to
DR OZDOWSKI: Perth.
MR HUXSTEP: Perth. In the interim I think he spent some time in prison in Port Augusta, I believe, because it was alleged that he was a participant in the riot.
DR OZDOWSKI: Now, can we in a way change the topic now and I would like to go to the issue of medical facilities. And in particular I would like to focus on children and food for children. Quite often we heard that the milk formula was not available for young babies or that it was available sporadically. Do you know anything about availability of milk formula for babies over there?
MR HUXSTEP: Whilst I was working at the Woomera Detention Centre there was formula available for the babies. There was - most of the time there was a midwife available who looked after the post-partum mothers, the pregnant women and the small - the neo-natal babies, small babies. The problem I found with formula specifically is that after hours if the midwife wasn't the nurse that was on duty on the night-shift that she would make up enough bottles for the small babies in the camp and distribute them to the different compounds and ask the guards to give them out to the mothers with their numbers and names and the times that they should be given out.
And the guards weren't always very vigilant in who they gave them to or how many or the times. Subsequently some children missed out on their formula and then the mothers would present to the medical centre the next morning very distraught if they had hungry babies.
DR OZDOWSKI: It was a regular occurrence or it just happened once by accident?
MR HUXSTEP: It was very common and it didn't seem - because the guards would not always be the same ones on every night shift. You could explain until you were hoarse and put up instructions, very clear instructions in each compound and it didn't seem to make any difference. They didn't take any notice and they gave out the wrong number to the wrong people. Some mothers would come and say, "My child is hungry" and they would just hand them a bottle. They didn't know who they were or if they had a small child or
DR OZDOWSKI: And how mothers were warming the milk to give to the children because usually you need to have a proper temperature and so on?
MR HUXSTEP: The guards would - the guards in the building that they had in each compound would put them in the - they had a microwave oven for their own use.
DR OZDOWSKI: Okay.
MR HUXSTEP: And they would warm them in the microwave oven.
DR OZDOWSKI: Okay. And when the formula was mixed was it done in hygienic conditions?
MR HUXSTEP: As best as possible. We had a container and Milton to soak the bottles and the teats in but we were using a sink, the only sink in the medical centre and it only had cold running water and it was used for many other purposes.
DR OZDOWSKI: What other purposes?
MR HUXSTEP: One of the jobs that the detainees - because as one of the previous speakers said they were desperate to work and the only job really available there was to work in the kitchen as a kitchen hand. So that was a very sought after job. One of the - part of the screening process to work in the kitchen was a health screening and to screen for any bacteria that they might have they had to come to the medical centre and ask for a container and have explained to them they had to provide a sample of their faeces to be sent to pathology and screened for different bugs.
When they brought that back half of that had to be decanted into a specific medium so that whatever - you know, certain types of bacteria didn't die. So that was all done at the same sink that we made up the milk bottles for the infants, decanting human faeces from one container into another and send - packaging them up and sending them up to pathology. It was the only place we had.
DR OZDOWSKI: And the other specific food needs of children, were you involved - my understanding is that sometimes doctors were prescribing special diets for children?
MR HUXSTEP: Sometimes they were prescribing additional nutrient groups for children and pregnant mothers and breastfeeding mothers, extra fruit, extra milk. Often the food - I mean, I used - if I had to go into the kitchen the smell made me nauseous. They were given quite often fried food, fish and chips or, you know
DR OZDOWSKI: Were there any special meals prepared for young people there?
MR HUXSTEP: No, the children had the same as the parents.
DR OZDOWSKI: And the same timing?
MR HUXSTEP: The same timing. And the kitchen services were privately owned and operated at the time I was there and these predominantly detainee labour which, I believe, they pay the equivalent of a dollar an hour which the people could go and buy phone cards for, and yet they were reluctant to provide extra - appropriate food, more nutritionally beneficial food, extra fruit or extra milk.
Indeed many - many pregnant breastfeeding mothers would come and ask for a second glass of milk and they would be in tears because the kitchen had said, "No, one glass is enough per day". The same with children. The children were only allowed to have one glass of milk a day.
DR OZDOWSKI: Perhaps I will allow my Assistant Commissioners to ask questions.
MRS SULLIVAN: I just wondered whether it's possible to list the three or four major health issues for children that you observed while you were there and perhaps compare that with the population where you're now working?
MR HUXSTEP: Yes. They didn't come to the medical centre a lot. I think they were afraid. Sometimes they would come with their parents. The older kids and the teenagers sometimes would come in with non-specific problems and I think a lot of the time it was just for a chat. We used to see bumps and scrapes, normal kid things, they would fall over. Specific incidences, there were cases of children, who in discussion with my more learned mental health colleagues, were exhibiting behaviours and symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
But for the main part it was ear infections and runny noses and sore throats and, you know, headaches and colds and flus and run of the mill things. As compared to the general population I don't have specific numbers. I don't work in an area now where I see a great - a great cross-section of the general public with those sorts of problems, however, I think that the environment and their mental state and the diet they were provided certainly didn't predispose them to good health.
MRS SULLIVAN: Did you see any inappropriate medication of children and young people?
MR HUXSTEP: There were a great deal of people who were on anti-depressants.
DR OZDOWSKI: Including children?
MR HUXSTEP: I was trying to think when I was listening before, the age of the youngest person I saw on an anti-depressant would probably be 10 or 11 years old. The children seemed to be - seemed to absorb the mental state of their parents and many of their parents were feeling helpless and hopeless and demoralised and disempowered and I think that's how the children felt too when you talked to them. It's just - it was just shocking.
MS LESNIE: Did you ever see an example of a child who had self-harmed?
MR HUXSTEP: Self-harm. Certainly teenagers, not - 15 or 16 perhaps would be the youngest person I saw.
MS LESNIE: And what was the procedure if a child had self-harmed? What happened with that child? What if they went to the medical centre?
MR HUXSTEP: Their immediate medical needs were met, that is if they were bleeding or - that's usually - you know, they would cut their wrist or something. The only time I saw that happen the cuts were superficial. They hadn't - they hadn't cut any blood vessels so there was a dressing applied and they were referred to see the doctor as soon as possible. And also when we had a psychologist on site they were to see the psychologist. Failing that one of the mental health nurses if there was one.
MS LESNIE: Was there any sort of observation procedure for those children? Were they ever put into an observation room?
MR HUXSTEP: The same as the adults would be. I think that that was perceived to be of more potential harm than good. The guards would certainly pay regular visits to their - to their donga to check on them hourly and the nurses would make home visits as regularly as they could, particularly the mental health nurses would follow them up, you know, and call in several times a day and through the evening. And the parents were made to be aware that they should be vigilant.
DR OZDOWSKI: The self-harm you were mentioning, did it involve suicide attempts?
MR HUXSTEP: Not while I was at Woomera. I didn't witness anyone who made a genuine suicide attempt, not a child.
PROF THOMAS: You said there's a psychology service in the detention centre. What do you think of this service? Is it adequate, effective?
MR HUXSTEP: When the psychologist was there he was very good and he had an intern with him who was very good, however, there wasn't always a psychologist available. Indeed when the first - when I was at the early part of the time I worked at Woomera there wasn't a psychologist and even the services of the mental health nurses was arranged in a very ad hoc fashion. And there was a period at one stage when I was there for two or three weeks where there was no one with mental health training available.
PROF THOMAS: When the services were available did you find any children using them?
MR HUXSTEP: I wasn't directly involved but again in conversations with my colleagues many of the people they spoke to were children. And one of the psychologists, who has also talked to the Commission, told me when I was there that he had at least six children that he was very worried about at the time who were in detention.
PROF THOMAS: Did you have any opportunity to observe the behaviour of the guards with the children?
MR HUXSTEP: Many occasions, and I should say that not all of the guards exhibited unprofessional behaviour but many of them did and there were many instances. I remember I had to go in to the main compound to do a medical clinic one morning and because we were nurses we had to take a guard with us for protection, I presume. And we were waiting our turn to go through the gate to get in to the compound and there was a family returning from the kitchen with their meals, and there was a child ran through without waiting and when the guard yelled at him he said something rude to him and kept going. And the guard said to me - he looked at me and said, "I wish I could have five minutes alone with that little c-u-n-t". And I said to him, "What would you do if you had five minutes" and he made a hand punching - his fist punching his hand motion and smiled, and the child would have been eight or nine or ten.
PROF THOMAS: You say that after your work at Woomera you had problems with this stress and had to have treatment. Did you get compensation or Workcare?
MR HUXSTEP: I have paid for it myself and I've made a claim for compensation against ACM, but that hasn't been lodged in the Court to my knowledge as yet.
PROF THOMAS: Okay. Before you went to Woomera were you sort of prepared? What did you expect about the place?
MR HUXSTEP: I had seen reports on TV but I wasn't prepared for the physical environment being as barren as it was. I wasn't prepared for the attitude of some of the staff I had to work with. I wasn't prepared for being a trained health professional having my judgment set aside because of security issues; having my judgments questioned by people with no health training. I wasn't prepared for the level of depression and hopelessness of the population of the detainees, the desperation. The stories they told me were in many cases just beyond belief of what they'd already suffered before they came to Australia, and then to be put in to prison in the middle of the desert away from society for an indeterminate period of time and told nothing. People would come to me and say, why don't DIMA at least tell us what is happening with our visa application? They don't come near us unless there is a riot or there is a crisis and we don't hear from them. So I wasn't prepared for that.
PROF THOMAS: Were you given any training on cultural diversity?
MR HUXSTEP: No. The only training I received from ACM, we were asked to watch a training film made for American prison guards in the seventies which advised people should they be taken hostage that they should not act like a corrections officer but a normal person, and I thought that was fairly appropriate because many of them didn't act like people most of the time.
PROF THOMAS: But the place needs professionals like you in - health professionals
MR HUXSTEP: Yes, they do.
PROF THOMAS: doctors and so on. So what advice would you give to the people who are about to take a job there?
MR HUXSTEP: Don't go. They do need them but the cost of running Woomera, I think, is undeniably huge. By DIMIA's own statistics up to 92 per cent of people are successful with their visa applications so why are 100 per cent of asylum seekers punished by being put in the gaol in the desert and for an indeterminate period of time? I think it's fairly obvious, you know. People who are accused of crimes, and people who have been convicted quite often of crimes, are given much better conditions than the people who come here seeking asylum after being traumatised in their own countries.
PROF THOMAS: Thank you.
DR OZDOWSKI: Did you witness any riots?
MR HUXSTEP: Yes.
DR OZDOWSKI: What is happening to children during such riots?
MR HUXSTEP: The children weren't visible for the most part. I think the parents - the smaller children, particularly, were locked up in their dongas.
DR OZDOWSKI: Who locked them up?
MR HUXSTEP: The parents - well, I presume the parents. We weren't allowed in to the compounds or within, you know, close proximity to the compounds. There were their lights on the compound. There were many, many, many, many, many guards in full riot battle dress around the perimeter and we were told that the use of the water cannon had been authorised, and they explained the types of injuries that the water cannon can inflict, where it will hit the skin and shear the skin off in great flaps. We were told that we were not to treat any detainees that were hurt, only guards, and the
DR OZDOWSKI: So what you are saying, guards had priority?
MR HUXSTEP: We were told we were not to treat any detainees, only to treat guards. A medical centre was set up outside the perimeter just up the road from the detention centre, and guards who had been hurt in the melee would be ferried up to us for treatment and either rest there or go back on duty.
MRS SULLIVAN: Who told you to treat only guards?
MR HUXSTEP: The medical centre manager said that she went to a management meeting with all the other department managers each morning, and also had the centre manager and the DIMA manager present, and she came back from the meeting and said that there was intelligence to the effect that there was going to be a riot soon. If that happened, this would be the sequence of events and we weren't to treat detainees, only guards.
MS LESNIE: Do I understand that you - you set up a medical centre down the road so, in fact, there were no medical staff on site if there had been some injuries?
MR HUXSTEP: No, no.
MS LESNIE: There were no medical staff?
MR HUXSTEP: No.
MS LESNIE: So if a child, for instance, had got caught by a water cannon what would have happened to that child?
MR HUXSTEP: A guard would have to notice it and bring them to us.
MS LESNIE: So a guard could bring kids or anyone else to your medical centre down the road?
MR HUXSTEP: Theoretically but it didn't happen. No detainee was brought to us.
MS LESNIE: And were there any detainees injured in that riot?
MR HUXSTEP: I suspect so; however, I think for fear of punishment for a week or two after the riot no detainee presented to the medical centre with any injury which they claimed came directly from the riots. Sometimes they would come in with a cut or a bruise or a sprain which obviously wasn't new and they would say that they just hurt themselves playing soccer or something.
DR OZDOWSKI: But you didn't observe the riot yourself personally so you don't know what kind of
MR HUXSTEP: I observed the main compound at different times through the evening from a distance; the closest I got was about 150 metres. I observed detainees throwing small rocks from the compound across the fences at the guards. I observed guards and members of the Country Fire Service from South Australia, who were also present with their fire truck and hoses, throwing rocks back. The detainees were running round and round the compound with towels and things around their head to preclude identification.
DR OZDOWSKI: But you didn't see children or young men under 18
MR HUXSTEP: I personally didn't see anyone that I would presume from their size to be younger than a teenager.
MS LESNIE: Could you comment on the impact that that had on children? Whether or not they were there did you notice
MR HUXSTEP: The immediate effect straight after the riot was that the children who did come to the medical centre my perception was they were a lot quieter, a lot more guarded in their - a lot less likely to make eye contact.
MS LESNIE: Was there any effort to bring in child psychologists or other psychologists just to assess the children after that?
MR HUXSTEP: I believe a colleague of mine, who was a psychologist there at the time, made that suggestion and he told me that the response at the time was that they didn't feel it was necessary or that the cost was warranted.
MS LESNIE: Was he a medical practitioner? When he said that he didn't feel it was necessary
MR HUXSTEP: Psychologist.
MS LESNIE: He was a psychologist?
MR HUXSTEP: Yes.
DR OZDOWSKI: There is a final question I would like to ask you. Usually when there are incidents involving children in terms of South Australia, one should file a report with the Department of Family Services in South Australia reporting especially if a child was hurt. Could you tell me what was the procedure of reporting such incidents and how effective were the investigations?
MR HUXSTEP: The first time I arrived at Woomera was hot on the heels of a report a nurse had made about a child who was allegedly sexually assaulted and, apparently, the procedure up to that point had been that if a child had been harmed or suspected of being harmed, that the Centre Manager was to be notified and if any authorities - he deemed it necessary to notify any other authorities, he would do so. However, after that incident and his subsequent suspension, the procedure was changed whereby the nurse was allowed, according to ACM policy, to notify FAYS first and then to notify the Centre Manager.
DR OZDOWSKI: Okay.
MR HUXSTEP: However, the colleague - the nurses that I worked with I don't think would have been - had a problem with notifying FAYS even if that wasn't ACM procedure.
DR OZDOWSKI: So the records were made directly to FAYS and what FAYS was doing when they received the record?
MR HUXSTEP: They would follow up. That was dealt with between them and DIMA, I presume, with the involvement of ACM and senior ACM people. I didn't see - I wasn't privy to that sort of information.
DR OZDOWSKI: Any final comments you would like to make?
MR HUXSTEP: Just a general comment. I think the whole concept and policy of detaining people in a prison, particularly children in the middle of the desert, is inhumane. It's demeaning and demoralising, and I think it diminishes all of us as Australians that it exists.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you very much, Mr Huxstep, for your evidence.
Now, could I ask Professor Margaret Reynolds to come forward. Welcome, Professor Reynolds. I would like to ask you to take an oath or affirmation.
President, United Nations Association of Australia
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you. Could I ask you, for the records, to state your name, your address, qualifications and capacity you are appearing in.
PROFESSOR REYNOLDS: Yes. My name is Margaret Reynolds. My residential address is [address removed]. I appear as National President of the United Nations Association of Australia, but I am currently in Brisbane as an adjunct professor at the University of Queensland in the Department of Political Science and International Relations.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you very much. Could I remind you that I made a number of orders relating to protection of privacy of individuals and I would like to ask you to refrain from identifying any individual asylum seekers or identifying third parties during these proceedings? Now, could I ask you to make an opening statement, please?
PROFESSOR REYNOLDS: Yes. I appear on behalf of the United Nations Association of Australia. We have in addition of 2000 members throughout the country. We produce a weekly newsletter, Unity, which informs all Australians about the relationship between Australia and the United Nations. We liaise with a range of non-government organisations and refugee advocacy groups as well as individuals. There has been a great increase in the number of organisations and quite informal individual networks concerned with the treatment of detainees in Australian detention centres.
Briefly, I wanted to appear before you today to add to information provided in our submission. In our submission of March 2002, we detailed our general concern about the treatment of all people in detention, but particularly the impact on children. Soon after - just a little before the preparation of this submission we launched what we called the People's Commission. Now, the People's Commission was our way of dealing with the many allegations that were being made that were not, at that time, necessarily being fully investigated and as an outcome of that inquiry, which was based mainly on people writing, e-mailing or phoning us, we produced a report which was also submitted to this Inquiry. And the report was called Desert Camps, Australia's Detention Policy to Deter Asylum Seekers.
It contained primarily detainees' stories, stories from a number of detainee advocates, those who had visited detention centres, and a number of children's drawings. This report was presented to Mary Robinson, the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, in April and it was also provided to Justice Bhagwati at that time by her as background material prior to his visit to Australia to look at, particularly, conditions of detention at Woomera. In June when Justice Bhagwati visited, I also met him for the first time with a number of non-government organisations.
That is the background and the detail that I wanted to present to you today relates to efforts that we have been making in the last month or so to deal with what we are calling the culture of violence in Australian detention centres. There has been a great deal of focus on the policy of arbitrary detention. There's been a great deal of advocacy, and there's also been a great deal of effort to try to open up the policy and to find out just what is happening. We decided to partially switch our focus to deal with the culture of violence. As an organisation we still are very concerned about the nature of arbitrary detention, but we want to deal with conditions in detention centres.
We have - we've received, as I said earlier, a number of allegations and counter-allegations. They can only be allegations because we are not physically in detention to verify these. But I'd like to just briefly refer, and I will provide these to you, to three. One is very recent and occurred, allegedly, on August - sorry, not August - it would have been March 27. On that day, it is alleged that a number of ACM staff were transferred from one centre to another and, on arrival, they entered huts, searching and up ending bed linen and items in the huts. Water cannon was sprayed but not confirmed whether it was at people or just turned on.
Some of the staff drove 4-wheel drive vehicles around very fast. In one hut, there were a number of boys, children, when the guards came in and opened the fridge and threw the milk and sugar out on the ground.
When they complained and said that these had been paid for they allege that they were assaulted. One was beaten and then shackled and is reported to be badly bruised. Another was hit and later had six stiches to his head. During this time it is alleged that ACM staff were swearing and one boy is reported to have told them that they must speak to them like a human being. That boy was picked up and thrown outside. He was also hit, punched in the mouth and guards asked him why he spoke this way.
They then entered a place where 12 year old boys were playing a computer game and it is also reported that the boys were struck and two boys were handcuffed and the guards attempted to handcuff another boy. And so these kinds of allegations proceed, and I won't read any more of that one.
DR OZDOWSKI: Would you provide us later with details.
PROF REYNOLDS: Yes.
DR OZDOWSKI: Or the dates and names, if you have it.
PROF REYNOLDS: Yes.
DR OZDOWSKI: But I would like to ask you to give it to the Secretary.
PROF REYNOLDS: I certainly will. The other I will not read by virtue of time, but I will provide to you, and I would like to submit it, and that is transcript of a speech given by a nurse to a Children out of Detention group in June this year, and published in Capital Women's Right 2002. It refers particularly to her experience of personally witnessing a 12 year old spread eagled against a wall unable to move under guard while guards laughed.
He was called names and he was told if he didn't watch himself he would be going on a holiday to Sierra, which I am sure as you know is maximum security. His response landed him in maximum security under guard without his mother's knowledge and without his understanding. He was treated for abrasions to his neck from being dragged by the scruff. A complaint was filed but no further action was taken apparently by DIMA or ACM.
These are just two, and I will provide the third, these are just two of the allegations that we have presented in a meeting with the Australian Federal Police, just two weeks ago. We have asked the Federal Police to investigate the culture of violence that is alleged continually and has been for over 12 months now. We want to know and we have provided examples like this, the extent of criminal assault in Australian detention centres.
At our meeting we heard of a complexity of areas of responsibility between Federal and State police, between the Department and the Contractor, Australasian Correctional Management, not to mention a range of State Government departments depending on where the detention centre is located. We raised the question of the International Human Rights Standards for law enforcement which is produced by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Centre for Human Rights.
It is a pocket book on human rights for police. And we talked to the Federal Police about the need for this book to be a basis for a code of practice for those guards dealing with their duty of care. We talked about monitoring of just what is happening in regard to criminal assault within detention centres and also data collection. And we have made recommendations to the Commissioner that AFP initiate a survey of the extent of the cultural violence in Australian detention centres.
It will not be possible to investigate every allegation because there are so many of them, and AFP are under resourced and they have other priorities that have been detailed by the government in regard to anti terrorism and international crime. But we believe that there could be a negotiated initial survey of the culture of violence, a review of the areas of responsibility so that there isn't this constant conflict of who is responsible, where does information go when allegations are made, who is responsible for answering these allegations.
A centralisation of data collection, there is data about the culture of violence in Australian detention centres in a number of different departments, and we believe it should be centralised. We believe there should be independent monitoring of that process including random inspections as recommended in the draft optional protocol against torture. We recommended a code of conduct and we recommended that these issues be placed on the next meeting of the Australian Police Minister's Conference.
Just in finalising my comments, could I say that for the first time there has been official recognition that crime is occurring in detention. And this was in the Australian on 3 August when Commissioner Mick Kelty withdrew Australian Protective Services from bidding for the contract for the care of detention. And he said in his reported remarks in the Australian, that he was concerned that there:
Would be a conflict between the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Protective Services investigating crime in detention.
Thank you very much.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you very much, Professor Reynolds. Can I ask you to comment on two additional matters, considering your broad international involvement. Do you know of any other countries which do have a mandatory detention system, especially a mandatory detention system which is similar in implementation to ours?
PROF REYNOLDS: I don't know of any other country that has non reviewable detention of the scale of Australia's, nor the isolation - isolated nature of the detention centres. In Europe it is possible for people to be detained but not in such an arbitrary way for such a long period of time. And for children the prime purpose of your Inquiry, to be detained in the manner in which they are detained in Australia, is quite unprecedented.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you. And my second question, is that Minister Ruddock says quite often, and the Department as well, that it is necessary to detain because people are likely to abscond, and he quotes examples from the US and UK. Do you have any empirical evidence about asylum seekers' families from western developed countries and about absconding rates?
PROF REYNOLDS: I don't have empirical data, but I do know that it has been claimed that it is Australian government policy to release men on temporary protection visas, and keep the wives and children as "insurance" because if the women and children are detained the men won't abscond into the community. I can't prove that, but I have heard it from a number of reliable sources in the course of the last six to eight months. And the practice would appear to be verifiable if you look at the numbers of male TPV holders whose families have been held in detention.
DR OZDOWSKI: But you don't know of any statistics dealing with families, asylum seekers families because, for example, when I was meeting Immigration Officials in the United States they were claiming that in terms of families the rating of absconding is very minimal, almost non existent, but I am trying to find this kind of material, would your organisation be able to help me with it?
PROF REYNOLDS: I certainly would like to try to help you with it, because I have heard these claims, but I am not aware of where the detail is. One point I would make, however, is that the numbers in Europe and the UK are so great, whereas the numbers in Australia are so minimal, one could say anecdotally that it would be far less of a problem in Australia. And if the Europeans are able to cope with it, with their large numbers it indicates a lack of, you know, international good practice for Australia to make such a fuss about so few.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you, Professor. Prof Thomas?
PROF THOMAS: Do you have in your organisation - do you collect any sort of information about the mental health of the children?
PROF REYNOLDS: This intimation has come through to us usually second-hand, either phone or email or letters. Just a few weeks ago, when there was the hunger strike in Woomera, I had a phone call at that time from someone in Woomera who was extremely concerned about the mental health of a number of children who were trying to copy their parents in being on hunger strike but most of the material that we get is second-hand and because of the nature of the arrangements it is impossible for us to verify. We simply collect the material and put it together in our initial report and we will be continuing to do that over the coming months to bring out another report.
MRS SULLIVAN: Is there any additional information that you've received since you've done your own work and since the United Nations has also tabled a report recently that you'd like to draw to our attention? I guess it is supplementary information that might not be in existing documents?
PROF REYNOLDS: Mainly the three items that I - these three items and other material that has gone to the Federal Police that has similar confidentiality obviously. We don't use names, clearly, except to hand to the Federal Police or people like yourselves, and I can certainly provide the submission that was provided to the Federal Police to this Inquiry.
MRS SULLIVAN: That would be helpful. I guess in terms of your priorities as an association, what would be your number one priority in terms of children in detention centres that you would want to draw to our attention?
PROF REYNOLDS: Well, our number one priority would be for children not to be in detention and we are on record as wanting a change in the nature of mandatory detention as practised in recent years. However, there are so many advocates working along those lines that we felt compelled to look at the actual conditions and particularly the level of violence. Now, the level of violence is of concern for all people but the impact on children is quite horrendous and in our report, Desert Camps, we included a number of children's drawings and I took some of those drawings separately to Geneva to present to Mary Robinson and people could not believe the detail and the way in which children we so preoccupied with violence in those drawings.
MRS SULLIVAN: So in terms of, I guess, your broader knowledge of violence in the community, if we assume that some form of detention will remain, what's the pressure point that we could alleviate to reduce some of that impact of the violence. You know, you mentioned data collection and you mentioned AFP investigation.
PROF REYNOLDS: Well, first of all there should be - I mean, each officer employed by the privatised contractor should have to sign compliance with these standards. I mean, they're all set out and no doubt you know them anyway, but, you know, there's a whole section on the protection of juveniles. Children are to benefit from all the human rights guarantees available to adults. Detention or imprisonment of children shall be an extreme measure of last resort and detention shall be of the shortest possible time. I mean, so many Australian advocates have been saying this for months now and yet the government remains committed to detaining children and when criticised, all they can say is, "We must protect our borders." You know, it is a nonsense statement and must be exposed as that. Detaining children has got nothing to do with border protection.
DR OZDOWSKI: Perhaps a last question as I know we've run a bit over time but just to ask you: in your judgment, do the Australian Federal Police pursue all assaults, claims lodged with them with full vigour?
PROF REYNOLDS: I want to be very fair to the Australian Federal Police because I believe that they are very professionally concerned about the situation in Australian detention centres and that was certainly conveyed to us by two senior officers. The fact that they received us, that they have received our submission, indicates that there is concern. However, the arrangements for investigation of allegations is very complex. You know, some investigations no doubt are carried out by the Department, others by the contractor, others by State Police, others by the Federal Police and still others by child welfare departments.
It's so dispersed that it is almost impossible, except through inquiries such as yours, to really find precisely what is happening and who is ultimately responsible because there are so many different agencies. The material - I mean, there was a report that there had been some 6000 reported incidents at Woomera in a single year. Now, not all of those necessarily related to assault or self-harm but they were regarded as incidents. When you look at those kinds of numbers, I mean, clearly there's got to be a different way of processing those allegations and the time involved is just enormous and more than any one of those agencies can cope with.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you very much, Professor Reynolds. I think we'll adjourn now for 15 minutes. Thank you.
PROF REYNOLDS: Thank you.
SHORT ADJOURNMENT [10.57am]
DR OZDOWSKI: I think we are ready to start the second session of morning hearings. I've been told by some people that they can't hear when we are talking so we will have to ask everyone of us to sit closer to microphones and to use them. My name is Sev Ozdowski and I am the Human Rights Commissioner. To my left is Mrs Robin Sullivan who is Assistant Commissioner for this Inquiry. She is also Queensland's Children's Commissioner. On my right is Professor Trang Thomas who is also an Assistant Commissioner. She is a specialist in psychology and works at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Could I ask you to take an oath or affirmation?
FREDERIKA STEEN [11.15am]
SISTER DE LOURDES JARRET
DR OZDOWSKI: Could I ask each of you to give your name, address, qualification and capacity in which you are appearing for the record?
SR DE LOURDES: My name is Sister De Lourdes Jarret. I am a Sister of Mercy. My address is [address removed]. I am a pastoral worker at the Romero Centre. I am a retired school teacher.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you.
MS STEEN: My name is Frederika Steen. I live at [address removed]. I am a retired public servant, retired last March from the Department of Immigration. I'm currently a volunteer working at the Romero Centre and I have a long history of working with social justice issues, access and equity and in the community.
MR SHABANZ: My name is Alec Shabanz. I am a Bachelor of Science and Civil Engineering and Master of Project Management. I am living in [address removed]. I am also a volunteer at Romero Centre working with asylum seeker or TPV holders.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you very much. Could I ask you to make an opening address and if I could ask you to let us know a bit more about the Romero Community Centre, what you are doing and also about your direct knowledge of refugees, specially people who came through detention centres and people on TPVs.
MS STEEN: I will make an opening statement to be complemented by what my colleagues say. Firstly, could I offer the apologies of Rachida Joseph, the co-ordinator of the Romero Centre, who has been struck down by the flu. She would have been a most credible witness to what happens at the Romero Centre based on a long, long history of working in a number of refugee communities.
The Romero Centre had its origins in a Christian and human response to homeless TPVs found wandering the streets of Brisbane. That's a bit over two years ago. The response within the Catholic Church was to set up a help centre, a reception centre, an on-arrival place where people could be processed, enter the Australian community and from which services - helping services normally provided by government - would be made available to the TPV holders.
In the case of Brisbane, there was no access to major settlement services or to the infrastructure which some refugee communities bring to welcome newcomers. There was no community and ethnic Hazara community from Afghanistan, a very limited one from Iraq and Iran, earlier waves being of a different composition.
The work that we do at the Romero Centre is very much grounded in one grant from a State government, the Queensland State government, which made $50,000 available to employ a community development worker. That is the core around which a tribe of volunteers with many high-level skills now operates. The credentials of our volunteers come from work in business, in government, administration, education and community work. The work that we do is well-described in a brochure which I will table if I may. It is a hospitality and drop-in centre. We have seen in our time more than 2000 TPV holder refugees land here in Brisbane often after a long journey by bus from Port Hedland, Curtin and Woomera.
It is therefore their first bonding with the Australian community that happens and I am very glad to say that we, the good people of Brisbane and of Australia, say with all sincerity, "You are welcome. We're glad you are here." Those words of kindness mean a heck of a lot given what they've been through.
Their arrival in Brisbane is accompanied by a DIMIA made arrangement for one night's accommodation for which they must pay themselves. The next day, at 10 o'clock if it is a motel, they're basically on their own, and that's where the Romero Centre and its many supporters provide assistance in finding low-cost accommodation in dealing with the issues, the medical issues, the other emergencies that do happen. It is a place of friendship and support. It's a place where somebody who speaks English will help you buy the bus ticket if you can afford it, to go to Sydney where your family or your friends are. I can give many examples of the sort of emergencies that have had to be dealt with because people were sent to Brisbane when, in fact, they had family and friends in other capital cities.
Romero Centre is a modest place. It operates from the basement of accommodation belonging to the Little Kings Movement and it is provided to us rent-free. We are able to help the newcomers when they move into flats - and it is always low-cost accommodation and, in inner Brisbane, that means pretty grotty and fairly expensive. The help we get from St Vincent de Paul and other helping agents is absolutely incredible and astounding. That restores your faith in human beings.
We offer an address. People who have come out of detention who have lived in institutional life for a while, have to pick up the reins of managing their own lives. Getting mail, official mail in particular, is a problem if you don't have an address. So the Romero Centre offers that service, the mail collection.
Advice is needed, referral is needed, advocacy is needed, on a number of areas. We help people and we provide a place where they connect with education services, how to book a place in an English course which the Queensland Government has made available through TAFE. Unlike other states, the Queensland Government has not designated or made these TPV refugees a second class of refugee. Access to State-funded service is available. So one of our roles is to help people get enrolled in TAFE colleges to learn some English and some other skills.
We provide information and orientation which is desperately needed by people who have been stripped of their skills, their independence, their ability to manage their own lives. We do that in a fairly haphazard way as we can, when we can. It is, at best, a very inadequate safety net under people newly arrived in Brisbane who mostly do not have English.
The desperation for finding employment is priority number one, other than just getting on with their lives. We have done little, but something, by way of preparing people to find jobs and sending them to places where they can get more help. It is an area where they do not have access to Commonwealth services.
So at Romero Centre, we provide advocacy, we provide training - cross-cultural training for other agencies who, for the first time, are dealing with a new group of people from Central Asia and the Middle East and mostly Muslims. We provide a venue for Centrelink and Immigration and some other services to actually deliver their services, and we are speakers for public information meetings. That is a brief overview of what we do.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you very much. Could you say something about the numbers of people, especially families with children, and unaccompanied minors you are meeting in your capacity?
MS STEEN: Yes. The unaccompanied minors are more easy to actually quantify and you will get evidence from the school where they are registered this afternoon. I think there are about 40 - 150 or so all over in the last couple of years. Our contact with them comes and goes. They arrive at the Romero Centre. At the moment, those boys who have turned 18 and who are therefore no longer in the care of the State Minister for Family Services are coming back to the Romero Centre for support and sometimes just company and comfort.
The numbers we have dealt with: We have seen more than 2000 have come through Centre and register here with Centrelink. But the majority have moved on. In spite of Mr Carr's wish not to have them going to go to Sydney, that's where their friends are. There is no Iraqi infrastructure here to support them, no migrant services. They go to where they know they'll be welcome and that's with friends and family. So there is a large emigration from those who are landed here who actually have their visas validated, endorsed here, to Melbourne and Sydney in particular.
DR OZDOWSKI: So how long would they stay here on average?
MS STEEN: We had a very quick turnaround for - if a bus load of 28 came in, it could be that 24 left the next day or within the next 24 hours.
DR OZDOWSKI: So in terms of your centre, what long-term involve group?
MS STEEN: Our clients, the so-called TPV holder community is made up of mainly Iraqi, Hazara and a few Iranian. We've seen a bit of erosion recently of the Hazara people who are desperate at the thought of deportation and who are relocating to Sydney where they have a better chance of finding employment. I think our estimate is we have a community of about three or four hundred clients with whom we are still in touch and we are striving very hard at the moment to make sure there is some support, some contact with each of those families, with each of those households. Often they are households of young men.
DR OZDOWSKI: Sure. Out of 300, how many of them would be children or unaccompanied minors?
MS STEEN: I'm not sure of the exact figures. We have no way of actually counting them. My guess would be that we have - I don't really want to guess. It's hard to guess. There are families who come intact; mothers, fathers and children. There are families who come with children left behind in the country of origin and there are lots of young men who have no families.
DR OZDOWSKI: Could I ask you to let us know something about the impact of detention on children, unaccompanied minors, as you observe it?
MS STEEN: Yes, our observations include some very unforgettable incidents which are damaging to children. You may be interested in those. A woman in the ninth month of her pregnancy, apparently no medical assessment of her fitness to travel, arrived exhausted, distressed and immediately asked us through her husband to get them to fly them or to bus them to Adelaide where she had a sister. An unborn child and a very tired and distressed mother; we were rather fearful she might give birth at the Romero Centre. There was no - to our understanding, there was no information that would have made that young mother aware of the dangers of deep vein thrombosis by travelling yet again or of dehydration.
MRS SULLIVAN: Did that woman come from a detention centre?
MS STEEN: Yes, she did.
MRS SULLIVAN: Which one did she come from, do you know?
MS STEEN: I think it was Woomera.
DR OZDOWSKI: So she possibly passed through Adelaide anyhow.
MS STEEN: She did pass through Adelaide, yes. But she got on a bus the next - I think two days later and made that journey, long journey, back to Adelaide. We've had an example of a baby born in detention, delayed in detention, something which was outside the parents' control beyond the 28 weeks. That child was not eligible for the baby bonus which would have made a world of difference to the destitute young Afghan couple whose first child was born in Australia in Broome. We've seen babies 10 days old arrive, mothers exhausted. Again, a bus journey. We certainly have health concerns about them and their children and we also know that the uncertainly of where they sleep that night and the night thereafter really does weigh on them.
Because of the shortage of decent accommodation, families with young children have been booked into what can only be described as a cheap flea pit nearby the Romero Centre, which is well-known to the police, which has a resident prostitute, drug dealing and dealing in stolen goods. We have avoided as much as we can having people stay there. Sometimes there is no option. We had a mother with three very hyperactive children arrive from Woomera. Her journey was 28 hours by bus. Her husband was living and working in Shepparton Victoria. She relocated to Shepparton by catching a bus on the Friday she arrived at 7 pm and she was to be set off in Shepparton I think at 3.30 am on Sunday morning.
There was little we could do except help her make that horrible journey. She was so distressed and distraught at one stage she said, "I'd sooner go back to Woomera than get on the bus with those kids again." And she wasn't a bad mother. It was the circumstances. Our role in that is to do what we can and we bought her some sedative travel mixture so the kids would go to sleep at night on the bus. We had a very tragic arrival of a sibling group, a 23 year old young man with his three sisters, two of whom were minors under 18. They were sent to Brisbane - and I think it was Port Hedland, when in fact the brother, their uncle, the brother of their dead father, was already living in the community in Perth.
They wanted to go back to Perth. They needed to be with family. That was obvious to us. One of the young women was in an almost catatonic state not connected with the world that she was in. It was a charity, Saint Vincent de Paul, who helped them relocate to Perth, and that's a big money item. You asked about the behaviour, and perhaps my colleagues can help describe what it is
DR OZDOWSKI: Can I interrupt you for a moment?
MS STEEN: Sure.
DR OZDOWSKI: How decisions are made? About where they go to when they are released from detention centres?
MS STEEN: My understanding is that the case officer who decides their case to give them TPV or not would have known the circumstances of family already in Australia. Sometimes the refugees if not asked specifically may not have told them that, sometimes they have, and it should have been evident from the files. There wasn't always close checking on that. The decision is made by
DR OZDOWSKI: The officer in Canberra who reviews the case.
MS STEEN: I think that would be worth pursuing. I know that our colleagues in the Immigration Department here in Brisbane were equally shocked at that sort of dysfunctional movement of people who were already traumatised and who are exhausted. So it's something on which we have complained a few times.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you.
MS LESNIE: Sorry, just before - you say you have complained about it a few times. To whom have you complained?
MS STEEN: We sent a fax to the Immigration Department locally for forwarding to the central officer where this is centralised, and we certainly discuss it in the regular meetings we have with very professional colleagues from the Immigration Department.
MS LESNIE: Based in Brisbane.
MS STEEN: Based in Brisbane. They're our first port of call. We ask them to take the message back.
SR DE LOURDES: With regard to the arrival, some young boys told me that they were given their visa last November and they arrived in Brisbane in June. They say, "Why do they keep us there? Why do they hold us when they told us we had our visa? We're not criminals. We should have come long ago." And they also said they are not told till early that morning to get their bags and things and meet at a certain point so that nobody else knows they're leaving because of the consternation it would cause for people who have been in detention perhaps longer than the people being released.
DR OZDOWSKI: Ms Steen, could you explain what's happening with this? Why people are saying they do have a visa and
MS STEEN: I've heard it from adults as well as from the unaccompanied minors that when the decision is made, it is not automatically resulting in the action to depart the centre. I do not know the reason or the explanation for such a delay, but it causes additional stress.
DR OZDOWSKI: Yes.
MS STEEN: We certainly know of boys who travel together on the same boat from Indonesia who were 12 months separated for a reason I cannot explain.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you. Sorry, Sister.
SR DE LOURDES: Yes. Also a group of young boys - one lad would be about 6 years, another little boy 5 and the two brothers perhaps 11 and 12, were just in the centre a few hours and the 6 year old boy became very violent and he was punching and kicking and hitting and thumping the 5 year old boy for apparently no reason whatever, and I tried to separate them and the two older brothers tried to pull this violent young boy away from his victim, but they couldn't move him. He was just obsessed with beating and hitting this child, who was very timid, and when the scene settled down the boy who was beaten walked across and sat on a chair with his head down, accepted it all, he didn't fight back.
The violence frightened me, and to - he must have seen things like that for him to behave that way. And also the wandering around. They just walk around the perimeter of the room and once they arrive at our centre they seem not to know what to do with freedom. They're just out of the centre, into a bus and then they come into our centre and it's pathetic to see these beautiful young children at a loss to know what to do but just walk around a perimeter of the room, and
MRS SULLIVAN: Who makes the contact with Department of Families, for example, for the unaccompanied minors. Is it you people who do that?
MS STEEN: No. Immigration manages that at the core and that's very well controlled. So when an unaccompanied minor arrives, that connection is already well in hand and you'll hear from Family Services I guess the arrangement they have to out-source the actual care of the unaccompanied minors.
MRS SULLIVAN: So you don't see that as an area of concern for you? You feel that most unaccompanied minors do have adequate support from the Department?
MS STEEN: Unaccompanied minors in Brisbane have been very well managed and looked after. They have a most unusual network of support, constellation of events. Because most of the boys have been of the Hazara people, a community group, the Hazara Ethnic Society of Australia, whom you will meet this afternoon, provide culturally appropriate support, language support, cultural support. The Tiger 11 soccer team, which provides a social network, you'll hear about that later in the day. The Milpera School, which is the place where all the young men started their English language learning, and the catch-up program of the education they couldn't have in Afghanistan, is most remarkable. I'll put it on the record. People have described the Milpera School and its wonderful staff as Mother Milpera and that says a lot because those boys haven't got mothers here.
MRS SULLIVAN: So when they move from Milpera to another school, you're still happy with the kind of support they get?
MS STEEN: I can't comment on the details of the care which the unaccompanied minors get under guardianship. Others have a better handle on that and you should actually ask the boys themselves.
MRS SULLIVAN: Sure.
MS STEEN: Our observation is that the whole task of caring for young people who live in houses without an adult present - so no house parents - how they have managed is absolutely to their credit, that they have survived, that they have stayed in education, most of them, and that they have done well is just absolutely to their credit.
MRS SULLIVAN: What I'm trying to, I guess, look at, is whether that group of people come to you for support or whether they're able to get adequate support from their family services officers, for example?
MS STEEN: I really can't answer that. They will come to wherever they feel they are welcome and supported so they are coming back to us, some of the older boys now. For a long time they were dispersed. Some of them were living in distant suburbs, not close to each other. That was an issue we have taken up and the boys themselves took up. They're now relocating in accommodation which is more convenient to each other and to the services that they need. So the total network or support, under all circumstances it does not come anywhere near living in a family with your mother and father and at times it has been very inadequate, especially for emergencies, out of hours and weekend support for children.
MRS SULLIVAN: Thanks.
MS LESNIE: How do children but also families know to come to you for help?
MR SHABANZ: Basically, when they're released from the detention centre if they come into Brisbane the Romero Centre is the place they go to first. I think - I'm not exactly sure - but they - by Department of Immigration probably has been sent or sent there because there is no other place to go.
MS LESNIE: So there's no Commonwealth
MR SHABANZ: There is no Commonwealth facility. There is nothing. There is, basically, arriving there and then Department of Immigration and sent incoming there. They give them the temporary paperwork and so on.
MS LESNIE: Does the Romero Centre get any Commonwealth government funding?
MS STEEN: No way. In fact, the agencies which normally help newcomers have been warned off. Some have it in writing from the Minister for Immigration that they are specifically not to fund, and support, activities that benefit people - the second class refugees - on temporary protection visas. Some of them have alternative sources, multiple sources of funding and they do what they can to support the work and complement the work that we do, but there is no funding from the Commonwealth to support any of the so-called settlement services for TPV holders.
MR SHABANZ: And may I add a comment about some discrimination as well regarding this refugee with the other refugees. As you know, they have three years temporary protection visa so they're accepted as a refugee, but they are not treated as a refugee. One of the examples is they are not allowed to study full-time English or any other courses otherwise the benefit of their unemployment benefit will be cut off.
MS LESNIE: You mean for adults?
MR SHABANZ: For adults.
MS STEEN: For anyone over 18. A boy wanting to do university or TAFE courses is absolutely limited by his special benefits regulations to studying only for 15 hours a week. They're fairly greedy, they'd like to do much more, but that's the limitation. They are also not able to complement their meagre income by working part-time. Part-time would be just totally inefficient because every dollar they earn they must report and it comes straight off their special benefits. For the 19 year old whom we relocated to cheaper accommodation in an Anglican hostel the other day for $50 a week, his total income is, Sister?
SR DE LOURDES: $220.
MS STEEN: A fortnight. And he is now paying $50 a week for accommodation and before that he was living in accommodation that cost him, I think, $80.
MR SHABANZ: In addition to that discrimination I was mentioning, it's having access to interpreter. Some area they have access but some area they don't. For example to lodge the application for permanent residency they are not allowed to have those services, so we basically rely on volunteer interpreters to go with them and do that process. And the other issue is, basically, as we discussed before, about the choice where they have to go to live because as we heard about all these cases coming from Perth, going back to Perth, coming from Adelaide, going back to Adelaide and so on, we have many of these sorts of issues.
DR OZDOWSKI: Can I ask you about access to the primary schooling here of kids on TPVs. What needs to be done for a kid after they arrive here to go to a local primary school?
MS STEEN: I recently did it with a new arrival, a 10 year old, and there were no real obstacles. There is an ESL teacher in many of the - our unit - in many of the inner schools. The enrolment was not a hassle. The boy was on a visa that gave him legal right to be in Australia and he was given access to state education. Asylum seekers without a TPV are another matter.
DR OZDOWSKI: Some six months ago I was told that Queensland had a special procedure for kids on TPVs and the Minister was obliged to sign every one approach of a child attending the school and that on occasion it was taking up to three months before the Minister signed an agreement and kids had to wait a long time. Is it still the situation here?
MS STEEN: I think that situation was specifically in relation to asylum seekers whose parents are in the process of seeking refugee status. While they are processing and living in the community they have no entitlements to anything.
DR OZDOWSKI: I see. So it didn't apply to TPVs?
MS STEEN: It was not TPVs, no. Again, State Government services and the direction - the leadership - shown by the Queensland Government does not discriminate against the education of children on TPVs, not to my knowledge.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you. Professor Thomas?
PROF THOMAS: Of the children that arrive, do you observe anything special about their behaviour?
MS STEEN: Yes.
PROF THOMAS: Apart from, you know, walking around - their mental health?
MS STEEN: Let me give you an example of the politicisation that happens to children who live in an abnormal environment in an institution called an immigration detention centre. Sister de Lourdes was a witness to this, I saw it from a distance. The two year old just arrived, his parents still disoriented and exhausted: we gave them some toys to play with and for some these were the first toys they had seen in a long, long time. Tell us what happened.
SR DE LOURDES: The little boy picked up a giraffe and he held it up and he walked up and down the room saying, "Freedom DIMA, freedom DIMA, freedom DIMA," chanting freedom as he had observed in the centre and I said to him, I said, "You have freedom now" and it made no difference, he didn't really understand.
PROF THOMAS: He was a two year old?
MS STEEN: He was 24 months old.
SR DE LOURDES: A tiny little boy.
MS STEEN: And I think they had spent at least nine months in detention. So politicised at a young age. For the near adolescents, the young boys 10, 12, 13, the copycat behaviour, the influence of the leaders in the detention centre who are the spokesperson have drawn young boys into a very adult life. It's as if they have lost, or missed out on, their childhood. Their innocence is gone. We have looked into the face of one young man of 12 or 13 who has attempted suicide three times - and he was very willing to tell us what life was like.
The driving issue for him on arrival was to get his friends out of detention. What could he do? He would talk to the press, he would talk to anyone. He wanted his friends out of detention. So what happened carries on and changes their life. The politicisation is something that should never happen to children. Their childhood was taken from them.
MR SHABANZ: Basically the children over 5 years, what was my observation, is they are either very aggressive or withdrawn. As mentioned before one, 12 years old, I've seen myself, has cut basically his wrist a few times, hanged himself in detention centre in Woomera.
PROF THOMAS: Do you keep in touch with them - with those who stay in Queensland?
MS STEEN: Yes, we do. Our volunteers provide a link and we make sure that somebody visits, keeps in touch and the kids, of course, are caught up in school and the services, the supporting services there.
PROF THOMAS: So do you see an improvement in the behaviour over time?
MS STEEN: Because children have no help in detention - and we're talking about children who are in that abnormal environment for nine months, one instance 29 months. They've had no access to the debriefing and the counselling and the medical and psychological support to deal with the journey of departure. And I know of one little boy who has such nightmares about his father being taken by the Taliban, about losing his father.
He has a recurring nightmare. It is now so bad that it wakes the neighbours up in the adjoining apartment, so it actually jeopardises their accommodation. That boy and many others like him are bed-wetters. The trauma continues. It was what happened in the home country, the dangerous journey and some children were nearly drowned. Certainly there are tales of standing in water and screaming. There are also the stories of what happened in detention so it's a cumulative effect of bad experiences and being in detention for those many months, and sadly it is many months, there is no help.
So when they finally get here it's a very enormous challenge for the professionals to achieve recovery, rehabilitation, and I don't think any of the services are well enough resourced to do that. In our amateur way we do it with love and care and follow up and attending to the obvious needs.
MR SHABANZ: And the other issue is because the parents are not aware of these psychological misbehaviours. They are not - they are not seeking any proper treatment as well as for themselves because I observe the majority of them because they are living on this sort of limbo situation, all the time government talking they are going to send them back. Afghanistan is okay now and so on. They are so depressed and basically they're not aware of that other - some of them they're going basically towards alcoholism, some of them they're basically releasing their anger on their children.
So basically there's a whole issue involved basically coming from parents again to the children so the parents they are not aware of the issue, parents they are not aware of their own psychological misbehaviour or about their depression and their anxiety and so on. They don't know about their children. So this is basically - they carry on their life.
DR OZDOWSKI: We will have to conclude this session in a moment. Are concluding remarks you would like to say and if also you would like to provide us with further information we will be willing to accept it in writing.
MS STEEN: Good. We would certainly like to provide you some of the information with which we've prepared for this morning. In summary what we would like to see and to have happen is for there to be no detention centres, for no children to be locked up. We cannot think of any good and rational and reasonable reason to deprive children of their childhood and of their freedom. We see the suffering, we fear for their future because we know that the rehabilitation that must happen is likely not to be available to them in the way that they need it.
We fear for our society because for the first time a group of refugees have not been welcomed in Australia. They have been dealt with in an alienating fashion. The message that they have received is one of alienation. "We don't want you". People like ourselves often feel a minority but we do think that the mood in the Australian people is changing as they hear the stories of what is actually done to men, women and innocent children who have not committed a crime.
To be behind the razor wire, to be contained, to be caged, is a most terrible thing for a human being. Let me end on a bit of a note of humour. As part of our social activities we organised a picnic for some of our families with the volunteers who are linked with them last Sunday. And one of our colleagues brought her dog along. Muslims and dogs normally don't mix well but it's her pet dog and the dog came too.
She had the dog in the car and the children were playing soccer and playing games and she suddenly noticed that there was a group of children around the car. So she went over and they said to her very, very seriously, and it wasn't a joke, "Free the dog, free the dog". That says to me that the scars of having been behind razor wire and caged and treated like an animal and abused and told you're not wanted is a life-long scar. They will not forget.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you very much to the Romero Community Centre. Thank you. Now, I would like to ask Ms Camilla Cowley to come forward. Could I say welcome? It's very good to see you and I saw Tiger 11 playing, I think, in Armidale. It was a great social occasion over there so I will be really very glad to hear your story. But before I will do it I would like to ask you to take an oath or affirmation.
MS CAMILLA COWLEY [11.53am]
Tiger 11 Soccer Team
DR OZDOWSKI: Now, could I ask you to give your name, address, qualification and capacity in which you are appearing for the record?
MS COWLEY: My name is Camilla Cowley. I live at [address removed] in Brisbane. My qualifications, I've spent most of my life working a family sheep property and came to Brisbane two years ago. I'm a qualified primary teacher, came to Brisbane two years ago, did a course at university in English as a second language because I wanted to work with refugees.
So I am a registered teacher with ESL qualifications. I'm registered in all the ESL units for the - that the TPV children go to in Brisbane. I began working there and that's how I met the unaccompanied minors and I'm now the manager of the Tiger 11 refugee soccer team, which isn't quite why I came to Brisbane but, yes.
DR OZDOWSKI: Did you know anything about soccer before?
MS COWLEY: Nothing at all. I know quite a bit now. I know how to abuse the referee along with everybody else because the referee is always wrong.
DR OZDOWSKI: Could you tell me how it's happened and could you tell us also about the young men who are playing there. And I'm assuming they are only men but please do not mention names.
MS COWLEY: No. Okay. Well, we had, you know, spent all our lives on the land as a family and the time had come when we knew that we could no longer run that family property and we would be moving to Brisbane where our children live. I have four children. I really was very disturbed about what I was hearing about the whole asylum seeker detention centre issue. I wanted desperately to do something to work with these asylum seekers, which is why I came to Brisbane and did the English as a second language course.
I started volunteering at Milpera School and I did actually have some work there, paid work there. I wasn't there very long before I discovered that all refugees, whether they come welcomed or unwelcomed, are very needy. But if you're going to have a scale of need the unaccompanied minors were at the very top. They had the most dreadful need of belonging somewhere, of having something to replace the complete lack of family and the belief, the feeling that they had that they were not wanted, that they were here under sufferance and for as short a period of time as the government could get away with.
They needed a family. And as I got to know them they - the one fond memory they had of detention was playing soccer and their own world cup that they had in soccer in the detention centres. And it seemed to have provided them with something to cling to - to each other mainly. It was a way of clinging to each other in detention and taking themselves out of, you know, the dreadful situation. And I wanted to see if I could repeat that sort of community and support here in Brisbane.
And if I can just digress for a minute. One of the young men that I came to know first, when I first met him all he could speak of was his friend who was still in detention. They had arrived together and as you will probably keep hearing there is - it's more like a lottery than any sort of, you know, logic behind who does get accepted and who doesn't and often these rejections are overturned by the Refugee Review Tribunal. But for these young guys - I mean, it's dreadful for anyone to be in detention and I wish we didn't have any detention for anyone.
But for these young guys who didn't even have a Mum or a Dad or anyone to advise them they were just so alone. And this guy's best friend, who he credited with having really saved him, because this young fellow had been just so depressed. He had come, as we all know, because of the dreadful fear, the dreadful persecution in his background. His parents had sacrificed everything: not just his parents but his extended family and even the village to get enough money together to save him. The promise was we're taking your son somewhere safe, somewhere where he will be respected and he will be supported and he will be looked after. They didn't know where; just somewhere. It was, as we know, an awful journey out here for all of them with the same sort of stories of being abandoned on Ashmore Reef by the smugglers, of not knowing whether, you know, what happens now, is this Australia, and walking around that little Ashmore Reef.
You know, we just can't really understand the trauma that these kids, all of them, but these kids in particular, have gone through because they're so alone. So these two young boys had clung together through that journey; they knew each other; they knew they were both Hazara. They had the same stories, the same reasons. When they finally were picked up from Ashmore Reef and arrived they were put into gaol as they saw it. Well, it is. Some of the people who have been in detention and also in gaol tell me that they'd rather be in gaol; that it's better than being in Woomera or Curtin or Port Hedland.
This young fellow just - he had great faith but he just completely despaired. After everything he had been through, after everything his family had sacrificed, had it been for nothing? He just could not go on. He couldn't eat; he just couldn't think; he couldn't operate and this friend of his kept coaxing him and coaxing him and coaxing him and finally got him out to join in the soccer and he collapsed. He fainted on the dirt in the heat he just was too - just too drawn by it all. And he told me that that was what really made him decide that he had to change or he was going to die and that his family's sacrifice would have been in vain. So he started to try to eat and he started to join in with his friend in this soccer every day and he gradually got stronger and stronger.
He is still the skinniest little guy. So they were told they were to get their visas. The morning they were to leave this good friend of his was not there and they didn't know why. A group of them arrived in Brisbane not knowing why his other friend who they credited with saving them because he was the one - he was the life and soul of the party; he was the one who always got them laughing; he was the one who inspired the soccer. But he hadn't been released and nobody knew why. And they kept asking me, you know, to do something about this guy. He turned up in Brisbane nine months later and they couldn't believe it was the same person.
This was the person who had inspired them all, who got them together to play the soccer, to laugh, to have some fun in the dreadfulness of the detention. And when he arrived he was so withdrawn he was almost completely silent. You didn't see him smile let alone laugh. They just couldn't believe what had happened to him. He often couldn't even get himself out of bed and get to school. He always was sick or thought he was sick. He always wanted to go to doctors and a lot of these things are common things. They are paranoid about their health and I think there are a couple of things about this: Australians don't want you; if you're unhealthy then they really don't want you so you've got to be perfect.
You can't fail in any way. You have to be the perfect specimen. You can't be ill. You have to be very bright. You have to achieve. You have to - they have to be perfect. Australians are allowed to be themselves, but these guys believe they are not allowed to fall short in any measure. This young guy that I was talking about - the soccer tour - this was some months after his arrival and I had been really - and his friends were really concerned about him. The soccer - coming back into the soccer, he started to come out of himself again. And when we went on the tour much to the distress of the bus driver and the coach and a few of the other adults, this young fellow finally rediscovered himself and he was the life and soul of all the high jinks that every young group of guys get together do - you know come up with when they're on a bus together.
I thought it was wonderful because we finally saw this guy the boys told me existed. So it took him I suppose about eight months, eight or nine months, to get back to anything like the child that these guys knew in detention but that's where the soccer came from. Hearing all these sorts of stories about them, they just needed that ability to gather at least once a week as a family and it is their family.
DR OZDOWSKI: Immigration is telling us that while in detention there is quite sophisticated system of management plans for unaccompanied minors; that they have mentor families appointed, or that they are having special officer looking after their well being. Do they remember any of these issues when they are coming out of detention?
MS COWLEY: When you gain their trust - you see for these children they - many of them emerge from detention not able to trust anyone they feel might have any sort of authority at all because they are so afraid of saying anything that may be reported back that may go against them n the future. From what they've told me in detention there were some good guys and some bad guys. One lovely young man told me about how he really was so upset about the fact that so many guards abused them, swore at them, pushed them, shoved them: not all, but this was a common thread from all the detention centres that this happened.
The abuse, the racial sort of abuse, the threats - that they were told, "If you misbehave you will be taken" - this is from the Curtin one - "you will be taken out and put in the prison tree where they used to shut the Aborigines up years ago", and apparently they took some of the older detainees out and actually showed them the tree. They came back told the young guys, "Don't say a word. Don't ever complain. You don't want to be put in there", and they still are terrified. I mean there's a part of them that knows that that can't happen today, but there's a part of them - I mean they're coming from a history where their rights as Hazaras were always ignored.
So they have never told me any story of being - feeling that there was someone who cared especially for them in detention. They didn't get that feeling. The feeling they got was that if they stepped out of line they would be punished and they would be rather not be punished then or later. This stays with them now particularly now. It's getting worse now for all these guys, unaccompanied minors.
DR OZDOWSKI: Why is it getting worse? Because their visa is coming to an end?
MS COWLEY: Because their visa is coming to an end and because they are being told, "Afghanistan is safe, you no longer engage
DR OZDOWSKI: Protection.
MS COWLEY: our protection." Yes. They are really frightened that if they say anything now. They are really concerned now and this has really upset me that even being identified as the Tiger 11 Soccer Club may endanger them in the future because they will be identifiable. They won't be able to just sort of disappear within the woodwork. One of our - they are all extraordinary young people, they really are. The way they - and I've said it before and I still say it, I'd be proud to have any of them as my sons.
They are extraordinary young people given what they have come through and the lack of welcome that they get here. And he has been in a way a leader and a spokesperson for them and he told me, "It is too dangerous now to be a popular refugee, Camilla. I don't want to speak any more. I don't want to be part of Tiger 11 any more." He has withdrawn from all of that because he is frightened and that's a common sort of thing.
DR OZDOWSKI: How old are they at the moment? They are - they would be above 18 at the moment or
MS COWLEY: I've got - I just went through all my lists here and there are 14 who are unaccompanied minors still.
DR OZDOWSKI: Still.
MS COWLEY: There's one - I don't know what you - I think they call him a detached minor. He's actually came here with his older brother so he's not a ward of Mr Ruddock but he is still - but he's under 18. Then we have five who are now 18 but they were children in detention. They're now - some of them are in transition in that they're still receiving some sort of guidance from DOF. And we have four who are older than that but were under 18 when they were in detention.
DR OZDOWSKI: So they are basically at the moment most of them were classed as families in the state
MS COWLEY: No.
DR OZDOWSKI: No. Not all of - so how is guardianship exercised over
MS COWLEY: Through - the care of them was contracted out and Mercy Family Services undertake the role of the care of their
DR OZDOWSKI: Undertake the care.
MS COWLEY: Their fear of authority I helped in a way to overcome that for them because I did have connections with the Minister for Families in the State Government. So I asked her if she would meet with them and she met with four of them and they were very, very happy with their treatment from the Minister and she invited them all back.
So we had 20 of them come to a barbecue at Parliament House. And she began the proceedings, the Minister, by saying, "You have heard in certain circles that you're not welcome. I want you to know that you are very welcome here." That made such a difference to those boys. Afterwards, on the soccer tour, sometimes they'd be talking to people and they'd say, "Our friend, the Minister, in Queensland." It means so much to them, but they know that however much the Minister in Queensland may wish to support them, and she has spoken for them in parliament, she has no authority really. You know, their guardian is Mr Ruddock.
DR OZDOWSKI: Were they able to trace the families over in Afghanistan or they are still
MS COWLEY: They have no idea. None of them have had contact with their families since they left. For most of them, the families were also fleeing at the time. Their families were just - for a lot of them it had been a constant fleeing from one place to another to another. For one family, two brothers here, two young boys, it was fleeing from Kabul to Mazar-e-Sharif and, at the time the boys were sent away, the family was fleeing also. They didn't know where but they only had enough money to try and get the two boys out. Some of them, their parents had been killed before they left.
Some of them, all their male - immediate male relatives had already been killed before they left. But for most of them, their families were also fleeing and it was, you know, we are given the impression that these are a wealthy elite who, at some safe place, just sat and planned their itinerary and where they would go through choice. The boys' arrival here was the end result of a desperate, last gasp effort. And it's - the reason it's the boys, I'm not surprised. Coming from their history, you wouldn't send daughters alone anyway on such a trip, but the strong need to have the family continue, so the oldest surviving son is almost always what these guys are. They're the oldest surviving son of the families who are trying to somehow or other ensure the survival of the family and doing it through their oldest son. But none of them know anything about their families.
PROF THOMAS: Are you aware of any problems that they have in the community in general?
MS COWLEY: The problems they have in the community are, well, we'll start with education. The Queensland State Government has been really great. They really have. They've been very supportive and I've been able to take the boys to talk to them about housing, and about education, and about other sorts of issues. They're very receptive. But anything that's commonwealth funded, they have not access to which means we have students who have got to year 12, and that's extraordinary, within two years with, you know, not much English when they arrive.
They are in year 12 and they're doing quite well, extraordinarily well, given their circumstances. But it doesn't matter how hard they work they cannot go to uni unless they pay fees up front, the same as overseas students. And while they're in - if they want to access TAFE courses instead - you know how you can do your adult education through TAFE - they come up with that - against that, not allowed to be studying full time once they're not children any more, or you lose your special benefit. So education is a dreadful problem while they've got a temporary visa. That's one.
The housing situation has been very difficult for them. They didn't want - all of the boys that I know, and that's, you know, I've - we've had up to 35 at some time. We've got nearly that many still now with those older, etcetera. None of them wanted to be in an Australian family. They wanted to be together. One of the younger ones - he was only 12 when he arrived - and he was put into a foster situation and he was miserable. And I can understand that. The way the boys explain it to me, their first experience of Australians is in detention, and the Australians in detention have not given them a very good impression of what Australians think of them.
And they know they can trust each other, and when they have the opportunity, they want to be with each other, the only people they know they can trust. When they first come out of detention, that is all they know they can trust, each other. And their trust has broadened now to take in the people at the Romero Centre and me, and others that they know really have their best interests at heart. But to foster them, to put them in the foster situation with an Australian family they don't know, it is just a dreadful thing for them. So housing is a problem in that - I wish my kids had been as capable as these young boys.
They have - never having done it at home in, you know, in Afghanistan, they do everything, cook, clean, shop, study, wash, iron, the lot. But, of course, you know, this puts stress on them too. I mean, they're - I doubt they'd be very many young Australians who are 15, 16, 17, who would be capable, or would be expected, to do what these young guys are doing.
But what makes it so difficult for them, more than anything else, is the temporary-ness of their visa, the fear that is going with that, and their detention experience made them believe that the Australian government is determined to get rid of them, that the Australian government thinks they are criminals. Their guardian - this is the thing it's hard to get your head around. Their father figure, their guardian, is the one who calls them illegals, queue jumpers, who says that people from Afghanistan can now go back. They no longer engage our protection thing.
This is their father figure. It's left them, I would say, scarred. It's going to be very difficult to recover from psychological damage, torture, trauma, which most of them arrived with in detention, and then it was continued. To recover you need a safe and secure environment where you are valued, where you are loved, where you are cared for. They didn't get that, and they still haven't got that. They still haven't got any safety and security in certainty of the future. It is impossible for them to recover from the psychological damage that was visited upon them in detention.
DR OZDOWSKI: Perhaps if I could ask you for concluding comments because we are coming to the close of the session and possibly Mrs Sullivan would like to ask you a question.
MS COWLEY: Yes. Okay. Can I give you - before I leave, too, can I hand you something that I'd written because I was afraid I would forget things, so
DR OZDOWSKI: Yes. We'll be willing to take it into evidence. Thank you for doing so.
MS COWLEY: Okay.
DR OZDOWSKI: Any final comments?
MS COWLEY: The final comment would have to be that I've come to know these young guys over the last two years. They have come to trust me and they confide in me. They are terrified of - the opportunity to meet with you for them has been the first time that they believe someone in authority who is on their side is going to listen. That's going to be of enormous benefit for them. But for children to be in detention it - I mean, I'm not able to address the legal sides, but I've read up as much as I can of it, and we're just going against every international expectation and every convention that we have signed as a nation.
These boys have also studied this up. They can't believe that this wonderful safe place that their parents have sacrificed everything for, that this wonderful safe place places such little value on young people. I was also involved for 12 months, two days a week, with a family teaching a young woman English. Her little children exhibit, to an exaggerated extent probably, what I know is happening in all of the Tigers. There's a regression in these little toddlers, four year old returning to bedwetting, continual nightmares, attention seeking, that dreadful attention - negative attention seeking, clinging dreadfully to mum and dad, won't trust mum and dad out of their sight.
For the boys, the hypochondria you'd have to say, is in a way attention seeking; the nightmares that they have, the depression that they have, the desperate struggle to gain control of their lives to sort of continue fighting against the odds. They arrived the victims of torture and trauma. That torture and trauma was reinforced in detention and releasing them with only temporary visas is just continuing the torture.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you very much, Ms Cowley, for your submission and we'll take your documents in to evidence. Thank you.
Now could I ask Amnesty Schools Network to come forward? Welcome to all of you and thank you for coming forward. It's really good to see you and good to see you involved with such an important issue. Could I start by asking you to take an oath or affirmation?
MS KIRSTEN HAGAN [12.20pm]
Amnesty Schools Network
MS MEG FOLEY [12.20pm]
Amnesty Schools Network
MS REBECCA ASHBY
Amnesty Schools Network
MR MATTHEW CLIFFORD
Amnesty Schools Network
MR RORY KILLEN
Amnesty Schools Network
DR OZDOWSKI: Well, thank you. Now could I ask each of you to give your name, address, qualifications for the purpose of the record? Maybe let's start with Kirsten.
MS HAGAN: My name is Kirsten Hagan. I live at [address removed]. My qualifications, I am a practising lawyer. I was also last year's youth representative to the United Nations and I'm here actually representing the United Nations Youth Association.
MS FOLEY: My name is Meg Foley. I live at [address removed]. I am a year 12 student at [name removed] and I'm here representing Amnesty International.
MS ASHBY: My name is Becky Ashby. I live at [address removed]. I'm in grade 11 at [name removed] and I'm here representing Amnesty International.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you.
MR CLIFFORD: My name is Matthew Clifford. I live at [address removed] and I attend [name removed] and I'm here on behalf of Amnesty International.
MR KILLEN: My name is Rory Killen. I live at [address removed]. I'm here from [name removed] and I'm representing Amnesty International Student Network.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you. Could I ask you now to make an opening statement and, in particular, what I would be interested in is what experience you had with people who had been to detention centres?
MS HAGAN: I just wanted to introduce the opening statement. When the United Nations Youth Association prepared the submission for the Inquiry into Children in Detention, they felt it important that the Inquiry take in to account the voices of children in Australia and Amnesty Queensland Schools Network rose to this challenge and a number of students gave their views. And we hope that while none of us here claim to be experts in a particular issue, we do feel that youth is an important sector of society and does have relevant opinions on this issue.
More than that, young people will be living with the results of current policies, and these young students here have been in the unique opportunity of being able to see the impact of the current policies on their peers and perhaps hear stories that their peers will tell them that they might not tell other adults. So the four students can introduce themselves and explain their relationships and concern for refugees.
MS FOLEY: My initial experience is with writing to people in the various detention centres and I've become very close friends with them and speak with them every week. I also more recently have become involved with the Tiger 11 and a lot of other refugee youth.
DR OZDOWSKI: When you were writing to detention centres how did you select people to whom you were writing to?
MS FOLEY: The first person that I wrote to Bellingen Rural for Refugees gave me their number. I didn't know their name and I didn't know male, female, age or anything. It was very hard for me but the first letter that I got back was very moving, that this person could share with me their story, and from that person I have become friends with others.
DR OZDOWSKI: How many letters did you write before you received the first response?
MS FOLEY: Just the one.
DR OZDOWSKI: Just the one and how long did you wait for it?
MS FOLEY: About two weeks or one week.
DR OZDOWSKI: So not too bad.
MS FOLEY: Yes, it was good.
MS ASHBY: I've been meeting with refugees for about two years through Amnesty conferences and QPASTT where I have social activities and camps. Most of my refugee friends they are unaccompanied minors or some of them are out here with their families and they are all on TPVs or most of them are, and they are between the ages of about 11 and 21 - my friends.
MR CLIFFORD: I joined Amnesty at my school in year 8 and I've been writing letters on all different topics, but in recent years been attending events, conferences and camps in relation to refugees and racism, and I have become - made friends with many refugee people holding TPVs and other visas.
DR OZDOWSKI: So you write also letters to Australian government on the issues?
MR CLIFFORD: Yes, I have.
DR OZDOWSKI: Have you received any responses?
MR CLIFFORD: Pardon?
DR OZDOWSKI: Have you received any responses to your letters? Not many?
MR CLIFFORD: No.
MR KILLEN: Mine is through ..... I've come in to contact with refugees through Amnesty International who introduced me to YAN and it's many - my friends I've met through social occasions and student conferences.
DR OZDOWSKI: Tell me what kind of stories your friends are telling you about their time in detention?
MS FOLEY: Well, my friends that I know it's hard for them to talk about their detention. It's a nightmare that they don't want to relive, and also I'm not that close with them yet. As Camilla was saying you've got to build a trust before they can tell stories. However, the people that I talk to in the detention centres have told me of their experiences. They believe that the worst thing about detention is the psychological trauma of waking up and not knowing why exactly you are there, how long you are going to be there for, and what is going to happen if you are eventually given a TPV or sent back; so that is the worst.
Also, boredom, not having formal schooling so therefore spending all day thinking about what has happened to you and what can happen to you. Being called by numbers makes them dehumanised, makes them feel like animals, not like individuals, not like people - that, again, one of the worst things. Also, being surrounded by depression - constantly depression makes them also depressed. By seeing older people give up it shows them that the only way is to give up.
DR OZDOWSKI: Did they talk anything about riots or self harm?
MS FOLEY: Not particularly riots; self harm and depression just seeing people all day just sitting and not doing anything was one of the things that just - hearing crying and stuff but not riots as much. Also, finally, one of the worst things is the physical and verbal abuse that they get from the guards.
DR OZDOWSKI: Do you have any examples?
MS FOLEY: Not - one friend who has been in Port Hedland for three years has said that he has been told that there is no place in Australia for you, continually, so verbal abuse like that. They're the bad things. I talked with my friends and I also couldn't think of any good things about detention so - but they were treated with no respect which I think everyone has a right to respect. They were given no privacy or consideration for their culture or religion as there are various religions and cultures in the centres. Some of their private belongings have been gone through and some confiscated. I know my friends keep things in special bags and stuff and know that check things and stuff.
Also, there is no variety in their diet, in their food. One of my friends, a teenage girl, was weighed every month while she was in Port Hedland. Her weight varied between 23 and 25 kilograms each month but nothing was done to increase her weight to a healthier weight. It was just taken and recorded. So, yes, as far as - there is nothing socially or economically good about detention centres.
DR OZDOWSKI: Do any others of you have any stories from detention?
MS FOLEY: I think we all sort of shared
DR OZDOWSKI: Oh you shared, I see, and you have been delegated. What kind of problems do they face after they are released from detention?
MS ASHBY: Once most of them are released on to TPVs there is a lot of - to start off there is a lot of racism in schools which they don't really want to talk about to begin with, especially when you first know them because they don't want to be seen as being ungrateful because they are just so glad to be let out. But occasionally they let some things slip and you just see that they're not really accepted by a lot of the Australian community, like in schools, and they
DR OZDOWSKI: Do you accept them at school?
MS ASHBY: Well, I don't personally have any at my school but I have friends - well, I have TPV friends that are at other schools and, yes, we often have social
DR OZDOWSKI: So how are they treated at schools?
MS ASHBY: Well, that's - they don't want to talk about it too much but they often sort of - you always see that they say that they stick to their own groups. It's also a language barrier but just because people don't want to go and talk to them or be seen as
DR OZDOWSKI: So there is not too much integration going on?
MS ASHBY: Not within their schools that they've talked about.
DR OZDOWSKI: What other problems do they face?
MR CLIFFORD: Well, in relation to their schools I think one of the main problems is their situation. They seem to be very, very happy about schooling and do really well in it and try really, really hard. And one story of one of my friends, he went out - getting really good grades and everything like that, he went out to an open day, a university open day, and quite bluntly he was told by one of the uni staff that he would not be allowed to go to uni because he's on a TPV, and he has been going through depression and, you know, finds it hard to wake up and get to school and all that sort of thing, and it's just wasted - wasted all his talents and skills that could be put into this nation.
DR OZDOWSKI: I heard also that some of the TPV students decide to leave schools earlier because of lack of uncertainty that they may need to go back to Afghanistan, so consequently they prefer to go and work and earn some money rather than to go to school. Do you know any kids who express similar views?
MS HAGON: I think lack of - like, knowing they can't go to university after school. It sort of tends to make them see that there's not a lot of point because no matter how hard they try there's nothing they can do about it.
DR OZDOWSKI: Professor Thomas?
PROF THOMAS: Do you notice any kind of difficult behaviour, different from other friends that you have?
MR KILLEN: I find that most of my refugee friends - it's hard to gauge the effect the detention centre has had on them. I mean, normal every-day situations they're just normal friendly open people, but as you get to know them better you start talking to them about their experiences as refugees. They're willing to talk about their experiences in their home country, their boat trip here, and the troubles they face now, but the one thing that they don't talk about is the detention centre. So I find it really had to find out what it's done to them. But it's the one - the single experience that they all pointedly refuse to talk about and try to get over.
PROF THOMAS: But in terms of their temperament, do you find any difference at all?
MS TOLEY: You have to be a bit more respectful around them. You can't push them around because any little bit of violence - well, not even violence, but, like, they feel that you're not joking. Like, that you have to take everything seriously because if you push them around then they think it's serious, so - yes, just the fact that you
PROF THOMAS: You think ..... you have to like walk on eggshells when you're around them, or not? So do they talk to you about their family?
MS TOLEY: But, yes, again, some of them, if their family was killed or something they don't want to talk about that, for obvious reasons. But otherwise they joke around and - just like normal teenagers. But as soon as you mention anything about detention they close down and shut up. Otherwise they're just the same.
MRS SULLIVAN: Well, as Queensland Commissioner for Children and Young People, it's great to have our first youth delegation in Queensland. We must be doing something right. I want to ask a couple of questions, not so much about the young people who have been in detention, but about your peers. Now, you've obviously taken the effort to come here today and to write a submission and to, if you like, engage in action which involves you in interchanges with TPV holders, but in terms of the peers that you have a school and in your social settings, what proportion of them would share the views that you've just expressed?
MR KILLEN: I find that most of them - there are the people who very much support the governments locking them up, but the majority of them either are against it or generally don't have an opinion. I find that most people, if you discuss with them the issue and the effect that it has, they say that they don't agree with it.
MRS SULLIVAN: Don't agree with it in terms of the broad issue or just in relation to children in detention centres?
MR KILLEN: I think that most of them haven't thought about the issue specifically so it's a broad issue.
MR CLIFFORD: There is a lot of misconceptions and just things they don't know and it's quite amazing, like, they'll just say one thing, some little thing, and it will just - you know, you just expect them to know these kind of things and they don't. You know, you'll say something to them about it and, you know, they kind of start to realise.
MS LESNIE: What's an example of that?
MR CLIFFORD: An example. I don't have an example, but it has happened.
MS LESNIE: Okay.
MS TOLEY: I think one example is that they all think that everyone is a Muslim in the detention centres. So - and also another thing is that they think that Woomera is the only detention centre. So there's a few things that young people I think need to be educated about and especially the issue of young people in detention.
MRS SULLIVAN: On a scale of 1 to 10, where do you think this issue rates in terms of young peoples' priorities?
MS TOLEY: It should rate 10, but I think it rates about 1 or 2.
MRS SULLIVAN: Right. Three at the most? Okay. And I want to touch on another issue that you actually raised, and that is to what extent do you think young people's views on this issue are lodged in racism rather than refugees?
MR KILLEN: Hugely racist. Often when you talk to them - like, you'll discuss some logical arguments, they'll put forward something that the government said, and you might be able to argue against that, but then you'll argue it back and back and back and ultimately it comes down to, "Well, they're Muslim. We don't want them here," or "They're not going to fit into our society." At the core of it that tends to be what it is.
MRS SULLIVAN: A pretty common view.
MS TOLEY: Yes, I think that's very common view. Racism is - and misconception is one of the biggest problems.
MRS SULLIVAN: Given that we've had a fairly strong history of multiculturalism in this country, and we've had, if you like, waves of migrants coming over our history, what's different about this issue from when Italians first came, when the Vietnamese boat people came, when the Kosovars came? Are you able to say what's different about it?
MR KILLEN: I don't think it's necessarily different. It's just that the people who are the outsider, the foreigner, has changed. When the Italians were coming they were the foreigner, the outsider. At the very beginning, during the White Australia policy, for example, the Asian was the outsider. But now it's just - the focus has simply changed.
MS ASHBY: Also I think after 11 September, which was a big tragedy, but a lot of people have tended to go, "Oh, they're foreign. We don't want them. They must be terrorists." And you start to try and argue and they just go, "Oh, no. They're all terrorists."
MRS SULLIVAN: I was going to ask you a question about 11 September, but you've jumped ahead of me. So that issue is still under debate amongst young people; the impact of 11 September?
MS ASHBY: Well, our school didn't have it on all day, but I know a lot of my friends I have at state schools, they had the TV on all day of that day just replaying and replaying and they were so angry by the end of it they just wouldn't listen to whatever I said or anything about that not everyone was like that. They just ignore you.
MRS SULLIVAN: So given your stage of life and given that you've now linked up with some people roughly the same age as yourself, what advice would you give us as your number one priority as people who are about to inherit the earth as to what we should have as our priority for young people who have been through this experience and who now I guess in some cases you've come to meet?
MS TOLEY: Yes. Do you mean, say, if they've been through detention or if they just come straight from the
MRS SULLIVAN: Well, either. I guess what we're looking for is some recommendations to carry forward and we haven't had the opportunity to pick the brains of young people very much, and we hear from policy makers and you've heard from some teachers this morning and some voluntary workers. I'm trying to, I guess, get a sense of whether your recommendations fall in line with recommendations from some of those other groups or whether you'd offer us something fresh and new and exciting to consider.
MS ASHBY: Well, we've actually prepared a model, just as what we thought that if we were the - you know, feelings on what we thought would be the ideal system, sort of, so
MS TOLEY: We do believe that there needs to be some sort of a process of checking for health, so we think that a maximum of six weeks of secure community housing, not detention. So - but with that housing you'd get psychological torture and trauma counselling and basic language. And then after that six weeks, or a maximum of six weeks, you'd be released on a bridging visa into the community.
MS ASHBY: Which that would be funded by the government. And the bridging visa would last for probably a maximum of six months but it could be extended by judicial review to make sure they get the most accurate decision possible. But on this you'd get full work rights, you'd get English language classes to help them settle into the community while they're waiting, they get income support - like, they couldn't find a job or as well as, which would be funded by the government, medical assistance including Medicare and everything so they could get help, residence in settlement services, again to help them settle into the community properly, school education definitely and torture and trauma counselling would be continued from before.
MRS SULLIVAN: Right.
MR KILLEN: We also believe that after the six month period for processing, when they've been recognised as refugees they would all be given a permanent protection visa. We believe that the temporary protection visa should be abolished. A refugee is a refugee and creating a class system based on arrival is discriminatory and it's insulting to refugees and the people who want to help them.
MR CLIFFORD: After they've received their permanent protection visa we can't just let them go into society. We want to be able to help them further with special English classes and homework help if they're in schools, and definitely some workshops on Australian society between Australians and them where it will, you know - on an informal basis going through currency, certain customs, not enforcing it on them but swapping their customs with our customs to gain a respect for each other's culture, some slang words and what kind of sports we play in Australia and I personally am sure these people would like to be able to do that.
MRS SULLIVAN: That's great, thanks. That is really comprehensive and succinct. I am just not sure who is going to win the soccer games, but thank you very much for that.
MS LESNIE: Can I just ask a couple of questions about your model. How did you come with the timeframe. Why did you decide on six weeks for the initial, for instance?
MR KILLEN: We chose six weeks because we have read - that is a figure - - -
MS ASHBY: We have been told that it is that amount, that is how long it should take.
MR KILLEN: Approximately should take. And we believe that if it needed to take longer, then it could be extended by judicial review, or if it took shorter, that is much better.
MR CLIFFORD: That is just health and character checks.
MS LESNIE: The sort of English classes that you refer to, the English classes and the swapping of stories, why did you decide to leave that until the end as opposed to when people arrived?
MR KILLEN: We haven't ..... to the end because of special things that would be contrary to our - - -
MS LESNIE: Oh okay, I see. All right. So from the time of arrival basically, your recommendation would be that essentially the asylum seeker kids and Australian kids start talking to each other?
MS ASHBY: Mixing, and so they can settle in better when they can finally - - -
MR KILLEN: We chose those three, like the English classes, homework, and the workshop on society, because those were the three major boundaries. They were stopped ..... from making friends.
MS FOLEY: I think one of the main problems that has made like a war between Australian youth and these other youth, is that they have never met a refugee young person before. And so if we introduce them into the community from the first stage that they arrive, we would put a face to the first stories that they hear and stuff, and make them more personal, and therefore easier to work with.
PROF THOMAS: All of you clearly have a lot of thoughts and opinions about this issue, but it is different from your friend that you said, some of your other young people have racial fear of Muslims. Where do you think the difference come from, the difference within your group and all of the others? What benefit do you get that they don't.
MR KILLEN: We have been in the right place and the right time, like we learned about the truth. They haven't been exposed to the facts, they are just ignorant.
MS FOLEY: Also parents, I think and media is one of the big things that I know - like I question everything I hear on the media, and these people just take it all, just take it all in and don't question it. And so also parents they just hear what their parents say and just pass that on.
PROF THOMAS: So if you want to change your friends, or the other people's opinion, what do you think you would do?
MS ASHBY: Get the knowledge up. Like a lot of them just simply don't know what they are talking about.
MS FOLEY: And also getting them to meet young people, and I brought Tiger 11 up to my school, and before that had a lot of racial people comment to me about my contact with refugees. But as soon as they met these boys it was all gone, it was when can we meet them again? So getting them to meet them and see them as people this I think needs to change.
DR OZDOWSKI: Well, good luck with your work towards changing public opinion towards these people, because I think it is a key to changing the whole system in Australia. So thank you very much for your submission here, it was very refreshing to listen to you. Thank you.
So now we will adjourn lunch and we will resume at 2 o'clock in the afternoon. The session is closed.
LUNCHEON ADJOURNMENT [12.46pm]
DR OZDOWSKI: Okay, I think we will start the afternoon session off of National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention, public hearings in Brisbane. Could I ask Ms Ally Wakefield and Mr Damian Bartholomew to come forward. Thank you very much for coming forward and also thank you for your submissions. As you know the role of the Commission is to test evidence provided in the submissions, so we will ask you a number of questions. But before we do this, I would like to ask you to take an oath or affirmation.
Queensland Program of Assistance
Youth Advocacy Centre
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you. Now can I ask you to give your names, addresses, qualification, and capacity in which you are appearing here for the record.
MR BARTHOLOMEW: My name is Damian Bartholomew, I am a solicitor, and currently the Acting Director of the Youth Advocacy Centre. I am located at [address removed].
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you.
MS WAKEFIELD: My name is Ally Wakefield, and I am a Counsellor Advocate for young people working at QPASTT, which stands for Queensland Program Assistance to Survivors of Torture and Trauma. We are located at [address removed]. I am a registered psychologist, and also have qualifications in teaching English as a second language, and community development.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you very much. Can I ask you now to make an opening statement? Now maybe before we go to it I would like to ask you not to identify asylum seekers in your statements, they wouldn't like to have their names disclosed. And I also ask you not to identify third parties, and thus include former employees at detention centres. Simply these people cannot be named because they may not have the opportunity to respond to the allegations which could be made against them. So if you please remember these rulings in giving evidence. And I would like to ask you to give an opening statement.
MR BARTHOLOMEW: Perhaps as an opening, what Ally and I thought we may do is give you some indication of the agencies that we come from to give you some, you know, indication of our background and how the submission came to exist.
DR OZDOWSKI: Yes.
MR BARTHOLOMEW: I am employed by the Youth Advocacy Centre. It is a community, legal and welfare centre for young people aged between 10 and 16 who live in and around Brisbane. We have two case work solicitors on staff. We also have a social worker and a youth worker acknowledging that most young people's legal problems don't exist in isolation of other social and welfare needs.
We also have a community legal education solicitor, and a director. Half of the work that we undertake is also in policy and law reform. We have a particular interest in ensuring that young people's rights are protected. We have had some experience particularly dealing with young people who are coming into contact with them all, particularly in relation to youth justice issues and care and protection issues.
And it was as a result of our knowledge of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other Conventions that apply to young people who are held in detention, that we had a particular interest in relation to this Inquiry, and so it was that we approached QPASTT to - came to an agreement that they would work with us in the preparation of this submission. And perhaps if Ally wants to give some explanation of how that process came about.
MS WAKEFIELD: So at QPASTT we work with refugees, those on a permanent protection visa, and also those on a temporary protection visa. And for this particular Inquiry we ran some workshops with young people to ensure that the voices of young people could be heard at this forum. The process that we use to run those workshops was that we translated a flyer into the Arabic and Dari languages, and distributed a flyer inviting people to come to workshops to have a say about their experiences in detention.
We distributed those flyers through out networks of young people and also with partner organisations, and some of them have spoken this morning. At the workshops we had a QPASTT worker present, also a bi-cultural worker from those groups, a qualified interpreter and a worker from the Youth Advocacy Centre. And we ensured that there was follow-up and support that was available, acknowledging that the process of telling your story and experiences can often re-traumatise.
What came out of the workshops were a number of stories and they are documented in the submission. I guess what stood out for me was the particular emphasis on the application process that is used in the Immigration Detention Centres. And I will just read a couple of the quotes from our submission. Quote A6.2, from a young person states:
That when we arrived we were told that if we told a lie about our case we would be sent to prison for 10 years.
Quote A6.3, it says:
That most people come from small villages in Afghanistan and they are not ready for the interviews when they first arrive. They are almost dizzy and still can't walk properly on the land because they had been on a small boat for anywhere between 10 and 30 days. Then the people try hard so hard to prepare for the interviews. I think that they should be allowed a time at least to ready themselves and should be given an information session about what the interviews mean and why they are done.
And the third one:
It is so frightening in the interviews, and people are unable to express themselves properly. It is so complicated and alien to them that they cannot cope.
So I think this really emphasises the confusion and the trauma that people are experiencing in an intimidating interview process when they first arrive.
DR OZDOWSKI: If I could ask you a bit more about your workshops. I understand that you had two of them, did you?
MS WAKEFIELD: That's right.
DR OZDOWSKI: And one of them was for people from Afghanistan and the other one for people from Iraq.
MS WAKEFIELD: That's right.
DR OZDOWSKI: Could you let me know a bit about how many young people attend that, what were their ages and so on?
MS WAKEFIELD: Their ages ranged from 13 to 21. There were six participants in total.
DR OZDOWSKI: Six in both, or six in each?
MS WAKEFIELD: Six total.
DR OZDOWSKI: Total.
MS WAKEFIELD: So three in each, male and female participants. We initially thought it would be good to get large numbers of people to talk but I guess on thinking later we thought it would be better to get a representative group of people that are really willing to talk and feel safe and secure and able to do that in a way. So we made that very clear when we were inviting people to come to the workshops to only come if you really feel that you would like to because, from my experience, a lot of people would like to talk and tell their stories but they're still having ongoing fear and uncertainty about the current and the future situation.
DR OZDOWSKI: And all of them were TPVs?
MS WAKEFIELD: That's right, yes.
DR OZDOWSKI: And how long did they spend in detention?
Anything between one month and 10 months was the longest of that particular
DR OZDOWSKI: When you look at that experience, was it closer to those who were one month or those who were closer to eight.
MS WAKEFIELD: It is hard to say.
DR OZDOWSKI: Okay. Now, what kind of education did the young people have before coming to Australia?
MS WAKEFIELD: There is varied levels of education. I guess I am working with a lot more than those six particular people in the community at the moment on a daily basis, so I am constantly hearing the stories. And the education level before they come to Australia can range from a few years to some of them completing year 10, 11 or 12 in their home countries.
DR OZDOWSKI: So most of them were literate in their own language?
MS WAKEFIELD: Yes, most of them were that I
DR OZDOWSKI: And what are they doing now at the moment?
MS WAKEFIELD: The young people that I am working with now are mostly attending high schools in Brisbane. As mentioned before, they go to Milpera English Language School for intensive language assistance, and then they are attending four major schools in the southern part of Brisbane.
DR OZDOWSKI: And how would you assess your experience? How would you assess the impact of detention on them?
MS WAKEFIELD: I think the experience of detention and their experience of post-detention, the crucial thing is the uncertainty that they are experiencing about their current situation and their view of the future, and that comes out in many ways but the most common ways that I have heard, just about every day, one is through headaches, constant headaches. Another one is through sleeping problems, either major problems falling asleep or staying asleep and often wandering around in the middle of the night to try and sleep. And also problems concentrating and remembering things. And also signs of depression, so getting out of bed in the morning and actually attending school and continuing to attend school with the uncertainty of their future.
DR OZDOWSKI: Do the signs, as you describe, continue after they are released for an extended period of time?
MS WAKEFIELD: Well, at QPASTT I work with those on a Permanent Protection Visa and a Temporary Protection Visa. So working with refugee young people across the board, it is interesting to compare the different experiences. Those on a Permanent Protection Visa I see as having a faster recovery from torture and trauma because they have a sense of safety. They can go through a process of remembering and mourning and then reconnecting but I found with this particular group of young people on a Temporary Protection Visa they have major problems trying to feel safe in their current situation and so it is very hard to work from the framework that we have previously worked from in terms of recovery so it hinders that recovery.
DR OZDOWSKI: The children which took part in your groups, are they on their own or do they have families here?
MS WAKEFIELD: Two of them are with families and the other four are on their own, living with other young people in the community.
DR OZDOWSKI: Can you tell me what else they were saying about their treatment in detention?
MS WAKEFIELD: There were a lot of stories about the physical environment of the detention centre and the abuse that they received from those working in the detention centre, particularly the degradation and the intimidation that was constant and ongoing. Some of them mentioned regular musters, like a prison-like setting where they were rounded up at an unpredictable random time and forced to stand in a line and be counted. They were all allocated a number and their names were not used.
DR OZDOWSKI: All of them were from the same detention centre or they were from
MS WAKEFIELD: No, they were from Port Hedland and Curtin.
DR OZDOWSKI: Curtin, okay. So the musters, it was a major problem. What other problems did they have?
MS WAKEFIELD: They did mention restrictions on their ability to practise cultural practices such as prayer and that they were often not able to have a private place to pray or to spend time with their family and that it was a constant crowded situation that they were living in. This often led to small arguments and things that they acknowledge would normally have been resolved but, because of the ongoing traumatic situation and lack of space, often erupted into arguments and fights.
DR OZDOWSKI: The Department of Immigration in its submission to the Inquiry provided a list of activities which were undertaken both in Curtin and Port Hedland centres. I don't know whether you have had a chance to have a look at this submission from the Department of Immigration. It was sitting outside of the door just on the table.
MS WAKEFIELD: No, I haven't, sorry. But, in our submission, there were quite a few stories that the young people said about equipment and sporting facilities that were in the Immigration Detention Centres but often they were not able to use those facilities or equipment.
DR OZDOWSKI: Why were they not able to use it?
MS WAKEFIELD: They were only allowed to use it at certain times or adults got preference for use of those facilities.
DR OZDOWSKI: What about excursions?
MS WAKEFIELD: One of the young people did say that they had one day where they went on an excursion out of the detention centre.
DR OZDOWSKI: So one person had one experience?
MS WAKEFIELD: Yes, that's right.
DR OZDOWSKI: Not all people once a week or
MS WAKEFIELD: No, one person, one experience.
DR OZDOWSKI: And what kind of excursion it was?
MS WAKEFIELD: It was outside with a group of people to a park and coming back - just for the day.
MR BARTHOLOMEW: Can I just respond in terms of that question in relation to the submission that has been put forward by the department. One of the philosophies behind the method that we adopted in terms of our submission came from an awareness that many times there appears to be the bureaucracies have systems in place that they believe are able to respond to young people's needs. It's been the experience of our centre and the experience of QPASTT, both organisations having a significant history now of working with young people, that although bureaucracies genuinely believe that they have systems that are designed for young people, that there is often very little process to hear whether those systems are working for young people, and it is why we felt it was so important to organise the workshops to get that feedback from young people.
We are not disputing whether or not some of those systems may be in place, but, certainly, what was very clear from the workshops was that those systems weren't permeating through and making any significant difference to the lives of the young people in the detention system.
DR OZDOWSKI: The Immigration official submission - if you have a chance, if the submissions are available, I would encourage you to take a copy and maybe show it to the young people so they could have a look and compare because sometimes what you see in a bureaucratic form doesn't always meet the recollections of people, and, from my point of view, it is important to be able to establish whether there is a gap in this area. What about the schooling? What were they talking about schooling in detention?
MS WAKEFIELD: Most of them said that it was a very basic schooling that was offered, learning the alphabet, and once they had learnt the alphabet, then it was all too easy and that they couldn't see a need to continue going to school, that it was a waste of time. So it was a very basic level. They said that some of the teachers really did care about them and help them but others didn't seem to care about their education.
DR OZDOWSKI: Did some of them go to schooling outside the detention centre?
MS WAKEFIELD: No, not that I know of.
DR OZDOWSKI: How many hours per day was schooling taking?
MR BARTHOLOMEW: I think in the submission one of the young persons referred to the fact that they had an hour a day that they were able to access, but even then they talked about the difficulties of utilising that education system and how unfriendly it was for them, and how they didn't sustain in the education system for very long.
DR OZDOWSKI: So one hour per day to school and I assume it was possibly four days per week, or five days per week?
MR BARTHOLOMEW: I don't have a direct knowledge of that.
DR OZDOWSKI: What were they doing outside of the schooling time?
MS WAKEFIELD: There's lots of comments in the submission that just say that they were pretty much waiting - this constant waiting - and some of them said that they were sitting outside the DIMIA official office just waiting to hear about the answer about whether they could be let out or would be sent back. And I think all of the stories in the submission indicate that it is very hard to concentrate on doing anything and, even if they tried to entertain themselves and talk with other children and play, it was very difficult for them to focus on anything because of this constant anxiety.
DR OZDOWSKI: DIMIA was also saying that unaccompanied minors are having their case managed, that they are having constant supervision by a person who is having the function of a guardian. They are also saying that in the immigration in the detention centres, children do have access to trauma and torture counselling. Did you talk about this issue with the young people?
MS WAKEFIELD: I have talked about them. I think it is very difficult to engage in torture and trauma counselling in an environment that is not feeling safe and that the main issue for the young people while they are in there, and, indeed, after they are let out, is this ongoing anxiety about their future and their separation from their family. And although they may have access to counselling in the detention centres, I think it is clearly very difficult to access appropriate counselling when they are in an environment that is so oppressive.
DR OZDOWSKI: Is there anything which could be done in the detention situation to improve wellbeing of children?
MS WAKEFIELD: I guess what our submission is saying is that we think the actual detention of children and young people in immigration is what we are against and we think immediate release is the only option.
PROF THOMAS: The young people that you have known these days, do you see improvement over time now that they are out of the detention centres?
MS WAKEFIELD: I wouldn't say that I see an improvement. I certainly see that the social groups and the sporting groups that were mentioned this morning, Tigers 11, and the support that is in the community is very useful and important for their well-being, but it is not so much so that it is constantly increasing, because there are moments of increased trauma and anxiety particularly with the political situation in the Middle Eastern countries at the moment and the Federal Government's response at the moment and the constant changing legislation that's happening as well.
So although there are improvements I don't think that those improvements are necessarily sustained. And I think these days with the permanent application processes coming up it's actually increasing anxiety and depression levels.
PROF THOMAS: Are you able to compare this group of young people from detention centres with other young people who are - can be as the migrants, the refugees who have not had experience of detention centres?
MS WAKEFIELD: Yes. I am - I mentioned before but I would just stress again that those that have been in detention do experience more post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and that they are constantly complaining of sleep headaches and concentration problems. And although all survivors of torture and trauma do complain about these symptoms over time those that are on a permanent protection visa, there's a noticeable difference about a decrease in these symptoms compared to this group on a Temporary Protection Visa.
PROF THOMAS: So the counselling service that you provide for these how much do they get? An hour a week or long-term or
MS WAKEFIELD: The youth program is specifically focused on young people and acknowledges the difficulty of young people accessing services particularly a mental health service. So we offer a range of services including support groups, a homework club, recreation and holiday programs and counselling services, so that it's a more holistic approach to them accessing our services. We offer as many sessions as they would like but we've found particularly with those on a temporary protection visa the community approach where trust building is a foundation or is the most effective.
To give you an example the homework club that we've established is a practical way that we can support those particularly on a Temporary Protection Visa. They are the main ones accessing the homework club and out of that we can begin to build trust and then they can begin to talk about sleep and headaches and concentration and those things that I've talked about. And referrals come - self-referral comes out of that process.
PROF THOMAS: Do you have any experience with these groups but who have parents? As to the parent/child relationship?
MS WAKEFIELD: Yes.
PROF THOMAS: Do you have any opportunity to observe them with their families?
MS WAKEFIELD: Yes, we have - there are a few families that access QPASTT services and often the children of the parents come to us and say that they are very concerned about their parents and - so we have workers from QPASTT working with their parents and workers from QPASTT working with the young people and liaising with each other and we find that the parents of the young people need a lot of support as well.
PROF THOMAS: So your centre, you only concentrate on young people or do you also provide services for the adults as well?
MS WAKEFIELD: No, services for all - all refugee people.
PROF THOMAS: So does it need a lot of encouragement to get the people to come, especially the parents?
MS WAKEFIELD: Yes, it does, because those with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression it is even harder for them to actually attend appointments. There's also financial constraints of actually getting to appointments and also that stigma that is associated with help and with counselling and receiving support. So there are lots of barriers to them accessing services. So I guess QPASTT as a service is trying to be pro-active in its approach and particularly with young people. We work a lot in the schools and where the young people are at rather than expecting them to come to ask for help.
PROF THOMAS: And you are funded by the Commonwealth Government?
MS WAKEFIELD: We have a range of funding, DIMIA, Federal Health, Queensland Health and Brisbane City Council, but that's for the whole QPASTT service. The youth program has been funded sporadically from project work and we've just received our first core funding from Federal Health.
DR OZDOWSKI: Did DIMIA write to you saying that you shouldn't be using DIMIA money for support of TPVs?
MS WAKEFIELD: No. We are actually one of the services that has been allowed to
DR OZDOWSKI: You're allowed?
MS WAKEFIELD: Yes.
PROF THOMAS: So do you have any suggestion for minimising the impact of detention?
MS WAKEFIELD: I might let Damian talk.
MR BARTHOLOMEW: Well, I suppose the - our bottom line is what Ally, of course, says. That having gone through and examined all of the feedback that we received from the young people and then compared them with the chronic breaching of the international Conventions; that we believe that it didn't appear as though the government was in any way able to respond to the needs of these young people and consequently release was our - what we believe to be the only option.
But indeed if it was to be that the young people were to stay in detention what appears very obvious is that they need to have appropriate advocates, that they need to have - there was a constant stream of information coming to us through the workshops suggesting that young people didn't understand processes, didn't understand information; talking about the fact they had to do appeals themselves; that appeal times had passed up to 28 days; that no one was able to take on board their concerns, their responses; that they weren't having access to people whilst they were in detention; that the only people they were able to talk to are - some of them said were other staff members.
So it was that complete lack of confusion. So I suppose in a worst possible case scenario that young people were to stay there, there needs to be some effective and proper monitoring that needs to be going on within the detention system and a recognition of the acute vulnerability of young people particularly in this system and their need for appropriate advocates within it.
DR OZDOWSKI: Mrs Sullivan.
MRS SULLIVAN: When you started you quoted some references to the initial interviews that the young people had. Did they articulate any circumstances where they were treated differently from adults? In other words were there child specific processes that occur? And the interview would be one example, I guess, is whether they were treated differently in that interview than adults are treated.
MR BARTHOLOMEW: I don't know from the material that it's clear whether young people actually identified that perhaps in relation to accessing services. Certainly in relation to recreation equipment, etcetera, they talked about that notion that there was equipment available but they seemed to only get it for very limited periods of time. I suppose that when you're talking to young people without actually bringing - I don't think the workshops were conducted in a way that was designed to feed their answers or to get a particular response.
MRS SULLIVAN: Sure.
MR BARTHOLOMEW: So it wasn't asking them to compare to adults. So they spoke a lot about how difficult it was for them and their own experiences rather than actually saying, "Well, there were people who were better off than us".
MS WAKEFIELD: And I think there was one comment in there from an unaccompanied minor that was saying, "I think there is supposed to be some sort of special treatment for children but actually we didn't see that happening".
MRS SULLIVAN: So they didn't express any awareness of some form of complaints mechanism, for example?
MS WAKEFIELD: There is a mention there that they could complain by putting a note in a box about the day to day complaint system, but in terms of the uncertainty of when their decision will be made and how they would know about that there was no system that they were aware of. And it's been mentioned previously in the day but there were comments in here as well about the suddenness that the decision is made and they are told in the morning to pack their gear and that they are actually leaving and that comes through quite clearly that it was surprising when they received their decision.
MRS SULLIVAN: So does your service provide any legal advice in the circumstances they now find themselves?
MS WAKEFIELD: No, we don't, but we do work with South Brisbane Immigration Community Legal Service so we do all our legal referrals there.
MRS SULLIVAN: When you're trying to find services for these people is the fact that there are three tiers of government a problem for you? You know, Local, State and Federal players in the game as well as non-government providers, I guess.
MS WAKEFIELD: I think the services that are providing most of the services for the young people in the community now are the schools and the community organisations which are working with a lot of volunteers and Mercy Family Services, which is through the State Government. And Brisbane City Council were supportive in terms of financially but I think it's difficult to have a co-ordinated response of those three different tiers of government, yes.
MR BARTHOLOMEW: And whilst I think it is true that there is complicating factors by different policies of different levels of government it's certainly true that QPASTT and our own organisation has received different funding from the different sectors and there have been different policies. And perhaps if we were to be reliant upon the Federal Government for all funding and QPASTT was to be reliable it certainly wouldn't be there.
And so we've been very fortunate to have received support through the State Government and also through Local Councils, including the Brisbane City Council.
MRS SULLIVAN: We heard earlier this morning someone comment that they were very happy with the support that unaccompanied minors were getting from the Department of Families. Do you have any comment to make on that support?
MS WAKEFIELD: We do work in partnership with Mercy Family Services and I think they do try their best, yes, to support in terms of case work. And certainly those that are under 18 do receive that extra case work. I guess those that are just over 18 but are still in schools and are here alone so those between 18 and 21 is probably the gap where there's really not as much support happening. And they are probably the ones that access our service more so than those unaccompanied in some ways because of that other support, yes.
MRS SULLIVAN: Thanks.
DR OZDOWSKI: Any final concluding statement?
MR BARTHOLOMEW: I suppose our overall concern is that the continued breach of the various United Nations Conventions in these detention centres makes a mockery of our signature on those of the government - of the Australian government's signature on - as a party to that convention. We're extremely concerned as to the - if indeed that Convention isn't honoured within the detention centre as to what that means, not only to those young people within the system but for young people generally in Australia and in particular, other vulnerable young people such as young people in the care and protection system and young people in the justice system, the mental health system.
I think we're also - that our organisation was very concerned when we were listening to the feedback from those workshops to see a startling similarity of some of the information that we had gained and had been acquired by others in the Forde Inquiry here in Brisbane - in Queensland in relation to the abuse that had gone on in the youth detention system and the care and protection system. And there was a startling similarity in some of the abuse, the physical and emotional abuse that had gone on, and we were aware of the frightening outcomes that we have seen as a legacy in this State as a result of that.
We're extremely concerned that that same abuse is being perpetuated on these young people and that there will be a significant cost for this country and indeed for those young people who have been in that detention and suffering all of the trauma that has been outlined in our submission.
DR OZDOWSKI: Well, thank you, very much to both of you for the time you put into the preparation of that submission and for appearing here. Thank you.
MR BARTHOLOMEW: Thank you.
DR OZDOWSKI: Our next witness is Ms Rice, principal from Milpera State School.
ADELE RICE [2.32pm]
Principal, Milpera State School
GAYLE HOOD [2.32pm]
Home Liaison Teacher, Milpera State School
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you. Could I ask, now, for the record, to give your names, addresses, qualifications and the capacity in which you are appearing here?
MS RICE: My name is Adele Rice. I'm the principal of a government school called Milpera State High School. It's Milpera with one R and it is a reception centre. I hesitate, now, to use that word, since that's also a term sometimes used for detention centres but its function is quite different from most other schools. It is specifically to welcome and to receive newly arrived immigrant and refugee young people between the ages of about 12 and 22 and its purpose is to prepare them for entry into other educational institutions, usually high schools, but sometimes other primary schools. It has a very strong education focus but a very strong settlement focus and I suppose, at this current time, with this current situation, some of those functions have had to be considerably broadened because of the nature of the people coming. Will introduce my colleague?
DR OZDOWSKI: Yes, please.
MS RICE: Yes? My colleague is Gayle Hood who is Home Liaison teacher there and do you want to just speak about your function?
MS HOOD: Yes. My function is on the settlement side of the programme and so normally I would support the students' health and well-being and personal development and support their families. I would be liaising with the various ethnic communities to see if their needs are fed back into the school and as an information service to newly arrived migrants about the Australian education system and community.
DR OZDOWSKI: I understand that over the last two years you dealt with over 100 students on TPVs?
MS RICE: Yes. It's been a relatively small component of the programme and there were 27 students in 2000, 49 in 2001 and 15 or 16 in 2002 but it's very intensive and very close so that, for each of those people, that contact has been over a long period of time and since the services of the school are a minimum of 25 hours a day - but because many of those people have been unaccompanied young people, most men - unaccompanied young males, there have been a lot of after-hours support and activities and a lot of documentation and a lot of talking to those people.
In addition to the 100 people that we deal with, they're a small number of families. You know, the bulk of those 100 people would be young Hazara men from Afghanistan but there have been a few Afghan families who came a different journey to Australia and there have been some daughters in those families but not many and then there have been some Iraqi and some Iranian families. So altogether, our personal experience would be over a couple of hundred people and then we would also have the contact with the - again, usually men, from the Hazara ethnic community.
I suppose the thing for us is that, in terms of education, we've always seen the teaching of English as a second language and the receiving and nurturing of immigrant and refugee people - those services as resilience building so that those young people can take advantage in the Australian community and participate fully and so on. And in the past, that's always also been the aim of settle services of DIMEA but where this is very difficult now for people in education and the motivation and those kinds of things is with the whole policy of deter and deny and detain because then the motivation for education and resilience building is fraught with much more of a sense of hopelessness and despair.
So our task in preparing people to take their place in the community is much more difficult and particularly with the very harmful messages from the community that do a lot to destroy the self esteem and the self respect and the identity of people when they are told and have been told constantly in the detention centres, "You are not wanted here. Australian people don't want you." And so then when there are a range of services, it's still difficult for young people to go with those ups and downs and to overcome that kind of very strong message and it's where we, as teachers, fly in the face of those community attitudes and we're very grateful to our many partnerships with QPASTT and other organisations who help us to repair that damage.
DR OZDOWSKI: Could I ask you, perhaps, a question about standard of education of ex-detainee kids. And again, I would like to refer to the DIMIA submission which is saying that the aim is to provide education opportunities broadly consistent with those available in the general Australian community, and that the detention centres have good educational opportunities and they also say that they are preparing kids to go to Australian schools on their release. To what extent is this preparedness reflected in students which you are rescuing from detention? Are they ready to go to the schools in Australia?
MS RICE: I would not say that, in a single one of the students - and that would be over a hundred - have I come across anyone that would have been prepared to go into a regular school situation. Our students have come from three different detention centres. So that's Curtin, Port Hedland and Woomera. I only know one student out of that hundred who had access to a school outside the detention centre and that was in Woomera and that was the student in a family unit where the whole family had a very long detention, very at risk. The child had tried to self-harm, both in Woomera and since, and that is the only child that I know of that had any exposure.
The other messages that have come through very strongly to me in Australian schools now - most people born here and who have come through the system have had access to computers and to technology. In my experience, not a single Afghan person or Iraqi or Iranian person coming through detention had any access. I hadn't seen the DIMIA proposal until just now and the way it reads, it sounds almost like my school in terms of what it aims to do and - yes, but I
DR OZDOWSKI: It's quite attractive.
MS RICE: Yes, yes, and then there is a disclaimer saying, however, teenagers didn't appear to be interested. Now, from what I can see here, I wouldn't have a shred of evidence to support any of the claims in that particular statement but it is the first time I've seen it so I haven't analysed it and I think, in terms of the actual state that the young people are in - you see, they're not all the same to start with, even if they come from Afghanistan or Iran or Iraq. In Afghanistan, there's been no education system for 23 years.
So you're looking at people - some of them are very rural, very poor, not able to read or write Dari. There were no Dari interpreters in these detention centres so there's been a fair amount of difficulty with the interpreting and translation of documents when they were not spoken to in their mother tongue. Other students - and it's the same in terms of why they escaped and why they were persecuted - they may have had educated parents. Books may have been concealed, you know, under the floorboards of their house. So there are great differences in the sorts of people who are coming.
You can't just say, "All Hazara people are this," or "All Iraqi are that." As always, it depends on that education and the status of the family in the country of origin, certainly whether they've been urban or rural, and certainly whether they've already been refugees for a long time in another country of transit, say, the Iraqis in Syria, for example, or some Afghans may be in Pakistan or whatever. So their pre-migration, pre-escape educational histories are hugely complex and for us to deal with them is hugely complex, so how you can write it all down in a page and say, "We do all of this," but some of them didn't take advantage of it, I think it's an over-simplistic proposition and not one that I would be able to readily accept.
DR OZDOWSKI: After you have some more time to reflect here on that submission or after some of your students get access to it, we would appreciate any further comments especially on accuracy of that submission.
MS RICE: Yes.
DR OZDOWSKI: Now, I would like to ask Mrs Sullivan to ask you some questions.
MRS SULLIVAN: Given that complexity that you've just commented on, there has been several statements made by the Minister that it's too difficult to cater for the varying needs of these students in detention centres, hence, virtually give up. Now, you obviously run a school where you face the same complexities; can you give us a feel for how you deal with them both in terms of curriculum content and process?
MS RICE: Yes, I can. We do the initial assessment and we have a range of programs that people can go into. I think though one of the elements that before you even begin the educational process the person has to feel safe and I think in the detention centres they didn't feel safe and there were also other things that prevented them attending classes. For example, some things like kitchen duties or classes only being on in the morning or classes only being for those who were semi-literate or not literate, so I think in terms of what we do is a very student-focussed kind of program and it would be one that meets their needs, but then that is because we're trying to create the kind of atmosphere of learning, an environment of safety, one where there's a whole range of other programs so that that person can be a contributing and participating member of society.
Contrasted with where they've come from which is deter, deny, we don't want you, how then can you learn in that kind of framework or circumstance? So it isn't just what you teach or how you teach because we do have students who are so full of despair that getting out of bed to come to school is still difficult or we do have people whose bodies are in the classrooms but whose heads are elsewhere. And often it's through the writing - some of the things that the students can write that they can't speak in terms of these things and so some of the examples would be, for instance, we had some boys who were on Ashmore Reef and they were there for four days and five nights and the plane didn't come and they were with other people and there was no food and no water and they made a pact to walk into the sea if the plane hadn't come.
We didn't know any of this. You don't present on arrival and say, "I have this enormous trauma and here it is." It comes out little bit by little bit. It might come when you take the first enrolment data like date of arrival in Australia which is normally fairly automatic and people will look at each other, "What day do you put? Do you put the day you put your foot on here or do you put the day that you were released from detention?" And the other thing is that they think that that time in detention they were not treated as human beings and so that message or that ability to want to learn, because learning takes concentration, it takes motivation and it takes teachers and it takes materials and it takes resources, all of those things.
And even with - and I think we provided compassionate service and we're not social workers and we're not counsellors - we do use QPASTT to support that - but we still have people who are physically present but who are not there. We still have people, as they say, here we smile with our lips, we don't smile in our hearts. And you have people who don't know where their families are, their families don't know where they are and they're too afraid to try to make any contact because of the reprisal. We have students who, in the detention centre when there were visitors coming, they would be issued clean clothes or underwear or pot plants would be put out and when the visitors go those things are put away.
All of these things for young people - we're talking about people under 18 or up to the ages of 22 - they're such profound experiences and it's ongoing and so when I heard you saying in the previous submission about improvement and do things get better and so on it's up and then it's down, it's up and then it's down. It's very difficult to stay up and one of those things is the notion of temporary protection. Protection is a bit of a misnomer because it's not protection at all, but temporary is crucial to the educational component for the simple reason that education is for life, education is to get you a better life, qualifications. But if you are temporary, and then you are temporary again, and then you're in a country that changes the laws and shifts the goal posts, so one minute you do meet the refugee criteria, but you're not certain whether you're going to meet it again.
It takes that aim and goal of education, of being a contributing person, it robs them of motivation, it robs them of power to face a future, so whereas we can provide the programs, and I could say that on the whole the average length of time for the temporary protection visa people going through Milpera has stayed within the average range, which means there's a lot of ability, there's a lot of resourcefulness, there's a lot of intelligence, there's a lot of capacity and the other thing that they have that a lot of people don't have, particularly the Hazara, is a great gift for oral language and one that I haven't experienced for a long time.
So it really upsets me when that can be used against them. As in the recent case with the father of the children who were in the recent media attention because our boys have heard that man speak. They know that he is an Afghan. They know that he is Hazara. He speaks their language, but when they hear the Minister and the media saying he may not be Afghan at all that strikes at their heart. If you say to any of our kids, "What was the worst thing about detention," it's, "Miss, they said I was Iranian" or "Miss, they said I was something else," that denial of self. And now that they're in our community I never thought after 30 years of working in this field, in this country, I never thought I'd hear a young person in our contemporary society denying who they are because they don't feel safe and some of our in high school have.
When people say, "Where do you come from," some of them have said, "Miss, I said, Spain, because I didn't want to say," so it's that name calling, it's the abuse and it's the perpetration of these things that education is one thing, but you need to be in a reasonable shape to take advantage of it.
MRS SULLIVAN: One of the elements that appears to be missing in the curriculum in detention centres is any reference to Australian identity, knowledge about Australia, so there appears to be a basic curriculum of literacy and numeracy to some extent, but that's where the curriculum begins and ends. Do you want to comment on that?
MS RICE: Well, I suppose it's if you're teaching it's just so complex. If you're teaching English as a second language in that kind of thing there is an affective domain, so (a) you want to know you're going to be there; (b) you're going to have to know that you're going to use it for a purpose; and (c) it has to be about something. And the content about the Australian community or Australian mores or customs or whatever may well be an appropriate vehicle, but if the reading and writing is at the level of the alphabet how are you going to convey this other body of knowledge? Who's going to do the linguistic analysis of the demands that that subject matter makes on the learner? And I'd suggest that wasn't done or I don't know anything - no evidence - you know, of that.
And it might be all right to say to people, "Yes, well, you know, if you are in a detention centre then you need to know these things about the host community," but that's if a detention centre is in the real spirit of detention and the things that the Minister writes which means it's administrative detention only. But I would suggest that if you are encircled with layer upon layer of barbed wire; if you are mustered in the middle of the night; if you are under lock and key, then it's more like imprisonment than it is like administrative detention. And so it's like saying to people, deprived of their freedom in gaol, "Well, we have this lovely curriculum for you; would you like to learn about us?" when all you're learning about us is we don't want you here.
So, you know, that seems to me to be a great irony that they could even be considering some of those things, but we certainly didn't see any evidence of that in our students.
MRS SULLIVAN: When the students come to you from detention centres what sort of records do they bring with them, if any?
MS RICE: There are no records. There are no health records, and, in fact, our school based youth nurse talks about the lack of immunisation and I will just go through some of those particular things. It's the sleep thing again, either too much or too little, part of which is linked to depression, but part of which comes when you go to sleep at night, if you can, you have no idea what's going to happen through the night. You don't know if you will be disturbed in the night; you don't know if you won't be disturbed in the night; you don't know if you will be told you're gone in the morning; you have no idea on an hour-by-hour basis what is going to happen to you and so those sleep patterns are broken and they're very difficult to resume in a safe kind of environment on release from detention.
Some of the other things in terms of that: the health in detention, there's no process of immunisation and there are no medical records. So even sometimes where people have older injuries and Gail has particularly worked with a student who arrived with a particular health problem and I will just ask her to talk about that particular case.
MS HOOD: Well, there have been quite a few already - distinct ones - maybe
MS RICE: Yes, but you can't say the name.
MS HOOD: This particular student was visually impaired when he came from a botched operation that he'd had in Afghanistan. He went through this entire detention process trying to access medical help and they do write that medical help is available there. In his words he was told to go away. When he persistently tried to they told him to "shut up and go away." So he had nothing done about a detached retina. Once he arrived at our school we started the medical process and he's had a few operations and his retina - well, he still has problems with it, but at least he doesn't have the discomfort of a very itchy and painful eye and intense headaches. He couldn't even get a Panadol in the detention centre to deal with the pain in his eye.
MRS SULLIVAN: What about what we'd call ascertainment of students with disabilities? Is there any evidence that students with forms of impairment have been analysed?
MS RICE: No evidence. There are no records at all. There's just a visa and the visa has the date of arrival in Australia, the day they were released from detention and that's it.
DR OZDOWSKI: Did you write to the detention centre seeking the records of students you receive? Did you request some other
MS RICE: No, as a school we've never had any direct contact with detention centres. We have had regular meetings with officers from DIMIA particularly with regard to the unaccompanied minors and I would have to say you know very fruitful meetings with local DIMIA officers. There have been occasions when local officers haven't quite - you know when things have really affected students such as their reaction to letters that arrive in - to other members in the community: that can cause great consternation and anxiety and panic.
Everything panics you when you're on a temporary protection and I think that's the one thing that, you know, before you were talking about comparing with different groups with ..... of African or former Yugoslav or earlier waves of Indo Chinese or Salvadorian; once they met refugee criteria and, yes, you are a refugee, you were permanent. Now, you meet the refugee criteria but you are not permanent. And in my experience and with the evidence that the boys have given us, they could put up with almost anything if at the end of it there was a permanent visa.
But we have seen recently them having to re-apply because, you know, the political situation has changed, the rules have been changed and as an adult in the community having worked in this field for a long time I no longer have confidence. I no longer trust. I no longer can say to them with authority, "Well, if you do this and if you don't get a criminal record and if you do this and you meet the criteria, you will be okay": that's not the current experience. And so if there is that notion that the temporary visa can be taken from you at whim if somebody can prove that Afghanistan is a safe place even for Hazara people who have been persecuted for a long time, it's this kind of thing.
It's the ongoing nature of the temporary visa and the suffering and the despair that that entails that is a permanent problem and will prevent these people from fulfilling their human potential which is considerable. And there's the full range as there are for all people; they're no different from any other wave of people coming into the country in that way. But we have had no direct contact with detention centres themselves, but we do have direct contact with DIMIA officers, with Family Services, with Mercy Family Services, with QPASTT, a full range of services.
DR OZDOWSKI: Did you raise with DIMIA the issue of certificate and the documentation coming from Woomera before?
MS RICE: Well, it came - they came from the different detention centres and with the - I don't know that that evidence
MS HOOD: DIMIA. I asked for records. We've approached DIMIA for records.
DR OZDOWSKI: Yes, and what did they say
MS RICE: For health records.
MS HOOD: ..... directly to the detention centre.
DR OZDOWSKI: Yes, and what did they respond?
MS HOOD: They sent us very basic on arrival information so that was information that they had got from their first interview with DIMIA.
MS RICE: The difficulty too with those first interviews is that they were often done without an interpreter. And hence when the application, the re-application, for temporary visas go in and we then have the South Brisbane Legal Service come and work with the boys in the school with a Dari interpreter to do that second form. Then there's also that great fear that information you gave in the first instance may not tally with the second instance, you know that kind of thing if the interpreting - if they didn't understand the question the first time. But from the immunisation point of view, I think we have mentioned that that if, you know, that's something that should be done not just for their sake but for the good of the nation and that these records and health records should be available.
DR OZDOWSKI: Yes, those sort of things.
PROF THOMAS: You said earlier about the difficulty of providing education to these young people inside detention centres because of their low level of concentration, motivation and so on: so how do we solve that problem? If the government provide good education and they don't attend then, you know, what is the motivation then for ACM to provide good education, good schooling facilities?
MS RICE: Well, I suppose my point is that it is difficult to do. It is not impossible to do, but whether they have the will to do it or not is the other thing, and whether it then talks about whether detention is an appropriate place for young children in which to learn or whether ACM should be negotiating that with the local school in all cases, and whether there should be specialist ESL teachers or there should be special needs teachers because I hope I didn't say that it was not possible. But I think there are a lot of circumstances around the notion of detention and detention that is in a prison model because there is no doubt that that is how the students feel because I'll just quote you something that they have written:
When we came here we were put in detention centres. We were treated as criminals but we should be encouraged as human beings. They - the authorities - claim that we do not belong to Afghanistan until they can prove it and they keep us for a long time in detention.
Well, I think with those kinds of ideas going through your head, to be then if you're 17 or something, to be sitting down maybe doing the ABC is highly appropriate or equivalent. And as I understand from the documentation from the Human Rights Board, the education offered should be appropriate. And if you're a secondary person, it should be secondary education and if it needs to be vocational, then it should be vocational in type so I - for one thing I think learning in detention when there is no mother, no father, no proper health care, those kinds of things would make it very difficult but I think that maybe the solution lies in not detaining young people or not detaining them in places that are in the desert, isolated places not near to educational facilities that could be used.
Although I do know in Victoria where Maribyrnong is located, the Education Department is not allowed to provide services in that detention centre. But they are things that could be worked on if people were detained in places that were less isolated and less like prisons.
PROF THOMAS: So do you think that it is a better model if they are sent out to normal school in the community?
MS RICE: I think - yes, I mean I think if they were living in places that were more normal in every way because after all their only crime is that they were unauthorised entry and they came by boat. Now, if they came by boat then detention in the desert is our government's response. If you come unauthorised, and you come by plane, then you are living in the community in the city in which you arrived and you can have access or apply to schools. Now, some states might have been denying refugee claimants education but through advocacy with the Children's Commission and so on that can be turned around and schools do have to accept refugee claimants of school age for schooling.
DR OZDOWSKI: Any concluding statement?
MS RICE: Only that if this Inquiry is really looking at the adequacy and appropriateness of detention centres for young people, for children, for those under 18 - and I would suggest we go up to under 25 - I think our position as educators and as people who are used to working with newly arrived refugees and enabling them in time - not immediately but in time to become contributing and useful members of the host community, that detention in isolation desert places that only exacerbate things like their mental and emotional health problems is not an answer that is in the interests of the nation. And I would think the policy would need to have a lot more empathy and that our leadership would need to have a lot more compassion.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you very much for your submission. Thank you to Milpera State High representatives.
MS RICE: Thank you.
DR OZDOWSKI: Could I ask now Mr Hassan Ghulam to come forward.
Do we have Mr Ghulam of Hazara Ethnic Society here? Welcome, Mr Ghulam. My name is Sev Ozdowski. I am the Human Rights Commissioner, and with me are two Assistant Commissioners assisting me with this Inquiry. To my right, is Professor Trang Thomas, who works at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, and to my left is Mrs Robin Sullivan, who is also the Queensland's Children's Commissioner. Now could we ask you to take an oath or affirmation, before we go any further?
MR HASSAN GHULAM
Hazara Ethnic Society
DR OZDOWSKI: Now did you request that your evidence be given in camera, or you don't - - -
MR GHULAM: It can be in camera. I have no problem.
DR OZDOWSKI: No, no, we would prefer to do it in public.
MR GHULAM: Yes, okay.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you. Now can I ask you to state your name, your function, and your address for the purposes of the record of the Inquiry.
MR GHULAM: My name is Hassan Ghulam. I am the President of the Hazara Ethnic Society in Australia Inc. My address is [address removed].
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you, Mr Ghulam. You are aware of the privacy orders I made. I would like to ask you not to mention any names in giving the evidence.
MR GHULAM: Okay.
DR OZDOWSKI: Now could I ask you to make an opening statement, and I would like to ask you about your involvement with children who are on TPVs in Queensland.
MR GHULAM: I am originally from Afghanistan myself, and I'm also a Hazara. I have lived in Australia for almost 17 years. About three years ago, when the waves of refugee arrived in Brisbane, I got involved with these new arrived refugees, and they were mainly from my previous country, Afghanistan, and they were Hazara, the majority of them. I was happy to see them out of terrible situation in Afghanistan, and when I paid more attention, I noticed many things changed, and the very very first thing I have noticed, they were very fearful. Never mind what was their age. They were very fearful, and living in outskirts of Brisbane in a so-called bush, and I invite a few of them to come and stay with me, and they had fear to stay, and they were asking me, "How come you are living here just by yourself?" I said, "Australia is not Afghanistan, there is no civil war, no killing, etcetera, etcetera; it's safe. It's not like that." When I got more and more involved with them, that was in [address removed], a very small room. In those small rooms, 3, 4, sometimes 5 and 6 of them were living in a very cramped situation. The condition okay, but the reason why they were keeping so close to each other, it was because of the traumas they have seen in Afghanistan, the traumas they are going through during their trouble from Afghanistan to Australia, and the third one was trauma in detention centres.
DR OZDOWSKI: Could you tell us a bit more about situation of Hazaras in Afghanistan, how it was under the Taliban rule, and what is the situation now?
MR GHULAM: I have to make a little bit of a historical link to the issue of Hazara. Our problem, particularly in Afghanistan started since 1747, when King Ahmad Shah Durani declared that part of our world Afghanistan. Afghanistan means the country of Afghans. Afghan in Persian and Dari is equal to Pashtun, the country of Pashtun. All other ethnicity in Afghanistan at that time was denied the right to be the citizen of the country. Ever since, this has been used and used, again and again by different rulers in different historical times to discriminate. The very severe discrimination against us was in 1893, when King Abdul Rahman Khan invaded Central Afghanistan, and we, the Hazaras, are Turkic Mongolian tribes living in central part of Afghanistan with other cities included, like Mazar-e-Sharif, Herat, Kandahar, Kabul, and Enrahzni. So against us, the King carried war for three consecutive years, and, in this war, we have lost 61 per cent of our population, as a direct impact of war, as well as indirect impact of war, which was starvation, typhoid, sickness, and disease, etcetera.
From that time, our people start moving out of Afghanistan, so the problem of refugees from Hazara background, it is old. And this is the direction they have moved was towards North Afghanistan towards west to Iran, as well as towards south to Pakistan. Some of them even joined the British Army and fought for British Army in Basra, which is today's Iraq, and when they saw there that they are fighting against their religion, they give up fighting and settled there, but all of us, we never had a geographical space that we could call it a second home. We were wanderers, almost like gypsies. So discrimination in Arab speaking country has been exercised against us. Discrimination in Iran has been exercised against us, because they were claiming and still claiming that we are the children of Genghis Khan, and Genghis Khan has destroyed Iran, therefore we don't deserve any compassion or an opportunity to work, etcetera.
DR OZDOWSKI: It is a long memory, isn't it.
MR GHULAM: Well, it is, and in most cities in Afghanistan goes historically a very long time back. What has happened during the time of Taliban, and also before the time of Taliban, Shuri Mazare, who was ruling before Taliban in major part of Afghanistan, they have carried war against the Hazaras. In Kabul, and west of Kabul, there is enough evidence from the ABC TV, as well as radio, BBC, all of them, the massacres of Afshar is very well known. On the other side, one side the Shuri Mezare was attacking the Hazaras; on the other side, the south side, the Taliban. So we were cramped in the middle of very strong fighting forces. As a result of that, only 40,000 is known to be missing. No one found their bodies. Recently, after the attacks of the United States on the Taliban position, they have discovered mass graves of Hazaras even in Houst, which is close to Pakistan border. So discrimination has been exercised against our people historically for a very long time, and therefore, we did not have a chance, except twice in the history of Afghanistan that we have a bit of a chance of breath.
When Afghanistan got its independence from the British during 1919 and 1923 or '24, King Amanullah Khan issued a decree. By that decree, he banned slavery. At that time, the majority of Hazaras who were in main cities living there were slaves. So it is not going very back, 1924. That is the time. And also that was a bit of a breathing time. Another time was in 1963, when there was a bit of democracy. For the very first time, they allowed us to enter schools, have an education, but development projects was denied. The tax remained as it was, during the Prime Ministership of Shah Mahmood Khan, he put tax on Hazaras to pay back a tax from dogs.
So during the kingdom of Amir Dost Mohammad Khan, whose mother was a Shiite, he imposed triple tax on the Hazaras and Shiite. So these kinds of discrimination, it has a long history, but beyond that, the land, fertile land of Hazara in Uruzghan, where recently the Americans bombed the wedding, that area belongs to the Hazaras. Amir Abdul Rahman Khan gave that land totally to the Pashtuns. So during the history, all fertile land, as well as other possible golds and silvers which the people had, was given to the Pashtuns.
DR OZDOWSKI: How safe is situation now for Hazaras? Is it possible to go back in relative safety?
MR GHULAM: No. For three reason it is not safe. Firstly, the large member of Shuri Mazare's fighters and officers, they are the ex-killers who are part of the so-called army. I mean, not an official army that they are getting training. The only official army which has been graduate is this 350 a couple of weeks ago. But the others who are fighting and they are in some kind of alliance with the government. It is common knowledge that Awalaki was for a period part of Taliban. There are other tribes even, Hazara tribes, who are Sunnites. They were working with the Taliban and, before that, with Shuri Mazare. All of them, they are in power and they have gun.
The other thing is, if the people will be sent back from here, if they are able to find their houses, first there is no wall, no roof, and secondly, it is occupied by someone else. There is no rule of law to say, "He is the legitimate owner. You have to get out. He has to come in." And there is no force to force that law. Beyond that, in the constitution of 1963, there is one paragraph saying everyone who lives in Afghanistan is an Afghan. You see, not saying a Hazara, not recognising a Tajik, not recognising a Uzbek or a Turkmen. So everyone becomes an Afghan, and we are not Afghan. Afghan equal Pashtun. Right.
So even that democratic constitution has main defects like this. And according to this definition, many times the Shuri Mazare as well as the Taliban, as well as the Hulkies, the ex-communists, they said, Tajiks has to go to Tajikistan, Uzbek has to go to Uzbekistan, Turkmen has to go to Turkmenistan and Hazara has to go to graveyard. You see, this
DR OZDOWSKI: Could we - yes, thank you for the historical thing and I know I ask you for it. But now, if we could go to the detention and what are you being told by young people who are coming out of detention and settling here? What experiences?
MR GHULAM: The very, very first thing is the dash of hope. They are coming to Australia with very high hope because they have heard Australia is a democratic country, nice, beautiful, etcetera, etcetera. When they are on board of the ship, but before that, there is one major trauma. Those ships broken and the people were in the water. They have been staying in the waters for hours and hours while navies come, looked at them and went away. They didn't pick them up. There is a group of people here in Brisbane who were in the water for more than six hours and screaming and crying.
So one trauma, you can drown any moment and you will be dead. On the other side is the dash of hope when they are coming into Australia, instead of giving a greeting, welcome to Australia, here is a cup of tea, against the cultural, you know, habit that we are used to even in Australia is like that, you know. Without a cup of tea, you are not welcome here. Why are you coming here? You so and so and so. All of this has been said and repeated over and over and over. That is a disappointment.
Beyond that, when they go inside these rooms, so where is the freedom? There is no freedom. They are not asking for more food or clothes or this. They are also items to be mentioned, but their main cry is freedom, to have access to go out beyond these fence and wall. They are - early morning they are coming. ACM guards are coming very early, taking the blankets away, hitting with the baton on the walls which is a mix of
DR OZDOWSKI: What do you mean, taking blankets away?
MR GHULAM: Yes. Corrugated iron and they are hitting, heavy noise and taking the blankets away, taking the books off people, throwing it over the window. You know, get up. And then they are coming, starting all sorts of search and all sorts of accusation, which is, for a young person of 13, 14 or even 16 years of age. That time, there is a volume of anger to resist because this is no more different that Taliban activities.
DR OZDOWSKI: How often are such searches are taking place?
MR GHULAM: From the people, I have heard it is a regular occurrence, probably every two weeks, every week, sometime more often. If there is a bit of tension, it's much higher, the occurrence.
DR OZDOWSKI: And it's happening during the early hours of the morning?
MR GHULAM: Yes.
DR OZDOWSKI: During early hours.
MR GHULAM: Yes.
DR OZDOWSKI: What else is happening in detention centres?
MR GHULAM: Well, access to education is not available. There is not books - enough books, education material for children, toys to play, or any activity which should encourage them thinking is not there. The only thing which they are encouraging is obey. Listen what I am saying, do that, nothing else. And the resentment among children is so high that they are shouting and screaming, and every time they see an ACM officer they like to throw the cups on him and they are getting angry.
One of the young boys who is just 13, he told me, "Uncle, I went to the medical and I asked for treatment of my toothache." He said, "Your file is no more there." "I knew that. Yes. My visa is coming. This is the last night I am here. When I pass that officer I give him really a hit on his face." You see, they are creating an environment that human is to hate another human. That is the problem. Some of those guys who has so much aggression and anger inside them, if they will see an officer outside, they think he will offer them a cup of tea? No way.
From my point of view, instead of adding and supporting a peaceful society, they are creating a society of conflict. And the burden of those issues is with children for many years. Just on the way coming back, a young fellow, I asked him, "How are you?" He said, "I like find someone who can kill me and I am happy and I don't have these burdens." This is exactly the statement, less than half an hour ago, on the way coming here.
DR OZDOWSKI: So the conditions do continue after people are released.
MR GHULAM: Yes. Yes.
DR OZDOWSKI: Why it is so?
MR GHULAM: Well, there is a system of propagation of fear and that is, "We are not extending your visa. You have to go back home. You are this. You are that. Instead of seven days in Indonesia, you spend more time." All of this, and when it is coming via media as a so-called deterrent policy, it goes into the mind of children as well. "Oh, they are going to send us back, back to Afghanistan. Oh." You know. So the whole nightmare repeating itself over and over and over. And this is done directly by Phillip Ruddock. He, him personally, saying it over and over and over. And I have said it many times, psychologist has to go and make a judgment about this person.
DR OZDOWSKI: So assuming they stay permanently in Australia, what's their future?
MR GHULAM: Well, the restriction which is part of their visa, access to education after being in high school, maybe year 10, is very restricted. It's nothing from year 10, because they don't know after three years of their visa what is going to happen. If they are sent back home, they better stop studying. They have to go for some cheap labour job and they did. Few of them, very bright kids, willing to study, started through a very hard period, but now they have been disappointed because of a letter they have received, and they are looking for casual jobs. For a young
DR OZDOWSKI: What type of a letter?
MR GHULAM: A letter - someone met a senator during a trip in New South Wales, and the senator was nice and kind. He said, "I will talk to Phillip Ruddock, see what your situation like." And he got a letter from Phillip Ruddock and that letter come to the hand of these young fellows and they are very disappointed.
DR OZDOWSKI: And so what did the letter say?
MR GHULAM: The letter saying there is no chance as a whole. It is not giving any hope, and opposite, destroying hope. And for an 18 years old, or 16 years old, to go for a casual job, the hourly rate is very low. Right. And so their future, even if they are going back to Afghanistan, is no good - if they stay in Australia is no good because they will be added in the queues of unemployed, unskilled, you know, with psychological problem, with traumas, etcetera, etcetera.
DR OZDOWSKI: Do they have any contact at that stage with the families or friends in Afghanistan?
MR GHULAM: No. There is no post. There is no telecommunication. If there is a telecommunication it's very expensive. During the time of Taliban few agents of Taliban they have been using mobile phone and very expensive, but that mobile phone system also was a trap. Who has member of the family overseas? If he or she has a member of family overseas it's a good point then they can blackmail to get money. But there is no telecommunication as such right now and those who have access to it must be part of the government or part of the UN.
DR OZDOWSKI: You possibly deal with families of Hazaras who were released from detention centres. We had quite much evidence about families disintegrating in detention centres, that families can't function normally in detention centre.
MR GHULAM: That's right.
DR OZDOWSKI: And that traditional family roles were destroyed. Could you see some recovery happening after they are released?
MR GHULAM: Well, detention is always there. When you go and see and talk the very first few days the husband and wife they are happy that they are out of detention centre, but immediately they start talking, yes, you know, the other family is left behind - the mother or so. And the night when I left I cried so much and she cried so much. All of this is coming part of that but if there is less activity for the husband to go out, if there is less activity for the wife to do, they are in a very small closed environment where the husband is not used to stay during the day, during the sunshine inside the house. So detention is growing, and detention starts from the very early days; when my father said yes, you know, to marry you I was not happy. So it goes back and then creates a lot of dust.
DR OZDOWSKI: And it impacts on children?
MR GHULAM: Yes.
DR OZDOWSKI: And it continues.
MR GHULAM: As an example, in Woomera they are putting in a housing unit five families. There is one refrigerator only for water. There is one basin to get some water - washing, hand or drinking water. A family of three children, husband and wife, they have had two double beds, one on each side of the room, a small corridor that one child could sleep there. And there is no door; there is no privacy. If you talk something the other family can hear. The other family can hear what you are saying. Also in terms of transferring depression from one family to another it is very easy. They are one small unit, five families. I asked the country was very wide like Australia, mountainous, the people were happy to go out, you know, bring a bucket of water but there is nothing like that. So very depressed I have heard from the families that those units in Woomera for families is terrible.
DR OZDOWSKI: And how are unaccompanied minors doing here?
MR GHULAM: Sorry?
DR OZDOWSKI: How are kids who came without parents? How are they doing here?
MR GHULAM: There are services in Queensland which is really helping.
DR OZDOWSKI: Which is helping?
MR GHULAM: Yes. From QPASTT, from Milpera State High School and also other schools where they go, and also a number of volunteers who are coming and we have got some other sporting activities which is helping the children, but still the biggest happiness is they see light, there I am going. I am finishing this school; I am going to high school; from there I have a chance to learn a profession or become Mr Somebody. Then they have a target to reach and they will invest time and effort, otherwise they are hitting a - you know, wall, concrete wall and that's no good.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you. I will ask Professor Thomas to ask some further questions.
PROF THOMAS: What do you observe in terms of the impact of the experience of detention centres on the young people that you have contact with now?
MR GHULAM: Yes. About three weeks ago one of the teachers in Milpera State High School she told me Mr - or the young kids are he's very fine, he's playful but when I am giving him difficult, sad questions that he should think, he's not thinking. I said why. He said maybe, I don't know why he's not thinking. I thought about it again and I checked with some others because if soon they start thinking they refresh their memory, and the very first memory is detention centre. Beside that is oh, cutting, you know, slashing their wrists or try to hang themself and Alum Dar who run away lately - Alum Dar is still there, you know; the other friend is there. I have no friends in outside. All my friends are in gaol. You see, these are the facts which stops - a child is happy, physical activity, this, this, this they are doing, but when there is a time to think usually they go down. This is my experience, not with only one or two, but many of them. Even those who are very happy, laughing, smiling, jumping first weeks, later on - and even to the level of loss of memory to that level.
PROF THOMAS: So does your community give these young people in areas of cultural activities or support?
MR GHULAM: What we are trying to do is we like to be available. We are not fully trained people in terms of counselling and psychology, etcetera, etcetera so, therefore, we are not allowing us to interfere. What we do is we make ourselves available. If you have worries we are here to talk. Occasionally we are organising some social activities, some lunches and then talks; talks about Afghanistan, inviting lawyers to talk about visa and they are coming free of charge and giving us information. But those information all again because of this restriction - restrictive law. It's not making them happy.
Music of Afghanistan, the last 20 years it is a very sad music. It's not providing happiness. Drama, comedy is not because the Taliban banned it and this new government is also very much pro Sharia, pro this, pro that. You know, there is nothing really to lift the heart of these people, you know. The only thing is a bit of soccer and running. We do what we can do. We have an art class to teach them some painting because some of them are good painters and some calligraphy, etcetera, but we are facing all the time the same dilemma of these three years, and this TPV visa, no future.
We can't solve that problem and we can't tell a lie, you know, but only occasionally or many times I try to be the representative of their anger in public places when I'm talking and I'm experiencing that anger in the very severest form. And they see that I am some kind of uncle for them and I'm happy about that. That's all that I can do as a person, and as an organisation we are a small organisation. We have lots of things including Nauru's refugees. They are sending us letters, faxes. Letters are coming to the Australians and they can't read it. We are translating and all of them is so sad, you know. A person he was on 5 milligrams of sleeping pills, now reached this day 280 milligrams of sleeping pills so.
PROF THOMAS: How big is your community here, the Hazara community?
MR GHULAM: We are around 140 Hazaras close to Brisbane but we have other members of our community in Gatton and Caboolture, Kilcoy which is about 50 kilometres - 60 kilometres away from here. And some of them are agricultural workers who are moving around and a large number of them working in abattoir. Australian workers are working three days one week, four days another week but these people they are working seven days a week just because they want to forget what they know.
MS LESNIE: Could I ask whether the kids that you talk to feel like they suffered any discrimination because they were Hazara? Is there anything particular about being Hazara that makes life difficult for them?
MR GHULAM: By us knowledge is transferred, you know, from elderly to the young ones to the young ones, and we have got also lately I call it the bible of Hazara. And the bible of Hazara is a history written by Mula Faiz Mohammad Hazara, and he was the registrar of King Abdul Rahman Khan. He was recording the daily events, and that daily events he was talking how they were treating the girls of Hazara when kidnapped and brought to Kabul. One of those stories is; they were stretching the branch of trees, and tying up the leg of a girl, one on this tree, and the other on the other and leaving the trees to go. So this makes the conscience of young Hazara about their history. When they are coming and facing a case officer, they talk, "I am Hazara." This he want to express a discrimination, which is a long history. But in Western style of refugee political activity, etcetera, etcetera, the law requires what is you are individual political activity, which has created problem for you.
And most of them they are not literate. They say, "What did I do? Nothing. Look, Taliban killed my uncle, my brother, my this, my that." You know, so discrimination in that sense of Western culture to become a refugee because of your political activity, or change of religion, or something is not the case with the Hazara. But it is the history Tajiks hurt them, Pashtuns hurt them, then they are two major force throughout the history since 1747.
And therefore, reconciliation we have asked many times - many, many times. The leader of Hazara, Mr Mozari, has said many times, "We are not better than anyone, but we are not lower than anyone." You see. And that cost him his life. The Taliban killed him. So, you know, many people if we will be going through it is a lot.
MS LESNIE: So the children in detention - the Hazara children in detention do they - do they feel comfortable in that environment, or does the fact the Hazara make it?
MR GHULAM: In comparison to Afghanistan, there isn't such a thing, because they are Hazara in detention centre they will be treated badly. But there is a question. First refugees arrive Hazara, "You looking like a bloody Chinese. How come you are from Afghanistan? You are not?" Even one - among our tribes, there are tribes who have blond hair and blue eyes, and he says, "I am a Hazara." "Rubbish. Look at your eyes. You are not a Hazara." And that means your mother had a relationship with someone else, and because of that he gone into some kind of a bad depression. So if that would have been in Afghanistan, that guy could be dead, you know, but here Australian law does not require to act like that, so he gets depressed.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you very much. Would you like to make any concluding statement, because we are out of time.
MR GHULAM: Yes. I do like to make a suggestion. The future of Afghanistan is not clear. The war is not over. It is a very complicated area; geographically, strategically and also militarily. There is no hope of end of war. Recently I have had a call with someone and he told me from the outskirts of Herat all the way to Kabul. There are hundreds of commandants who are controlling that road. And from there to there is 1000 kilometres. There is no safety. If they know there is 2000 Afghani in someone's pocket, they will kill. So my conclusion is; there is no safety, there is no security. Americans have one clear target, and that clear target is to eliminate Al Quaeda, and some Taliban. After that, what is going to happen, it is none of their business nor a piece of cake that they want to share. And the same as with British. So therefore there is no socioeconomic responsibility right now, and beyond that, United Nations is a self-serving organisation. They are taking money. They are using 80 per cent of their budget as so-called administrative thing. So whatever billions are promised, those billions are disappearing before leaving UN.
So therefore there is no economic activity as such to provide jobs, and income and security, and there is no constitution, there is no law, and the President of Afghanistan, he has American bodyguard. If he has a social base in the country to protect them, and to be respected, at least should have an Afghan bodyguard. But he can't trust, and the people they don't provide it. So this is the situation, and my request from everybody in Australia and outside Australia; the very urgent thing is the people in Nauru. The second urgent is people in detention centres. We have about 718 Hazaras in Nauru, and also about 60 - 64 in Woomera, and also in other detention centres. This excuse is that he is a Pakistani. He spent 7 days or 8 days in there, and all leave all of them there are simply excuses. They are not really solving the problem or they are carrying the justice. They are the miscarriage - mistreatment of the refugees. Thank you very much.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you, Mr Ghulam.
Now, we will be having
a break, and after the break we will have one more session which will
be in camera, and so I will have to ask everyone but witnesses to leave.
Thank you very much for your attendance.
ADJOURNED FROM PUBLIC HEARING INTO IN-CAMERA SESSION