Danger in Detention
The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) reported in November 2014 that there are over 800 children kept in mandatory immigration detention centres.
The AHRC has emphasised that these detention centres are a dangerous and unsafe environment for children to live.
Such a statement is neither an exaggeration nor politically biased: it is a fact. There is undeniable evidence to suggest that detention centres have severe effects on the physical, psychological and emotional wellbeing of children.
The AHRC stated in the report ‘The Forgotten Children’ (the AHRC Report) that the children detained on Nauru Island are currently experiencing an insufficient education, with a lack of books, tables and chairs and paper and pens.
Children are not provided with the appropriate clothing and are wearing long sleeve shirts in temperatures reaching 45 to 50 degrees.
Most significantly, there has also been evidence from staff working in Nauru detention centre of incidents of harassment, bullying and abuse.
For instance, in November 2013, a 16 year old boy was allegedly sexually assaulted by a cleaner, in view of security staff. Such an occurrence is not an isolated incident. Indeed, data from the Department of Home Affairs reveals that there have been numerous incidents of assault, sexual assault and self-harm among children.
These are fundamentally traumatic events that can be severely detrimental to a child’s development, ensuring that children remain affected long into their adult life.
Asylum-seeking children: We are not criminals…
The AHRC questioned children about the impacts of detention on their lives after they had been released into the Australian community.
Rahim from Afghanistan arrived on Christmas Island and was detained for a year when he was 17. He said that immigration detention had ruined him physically and mentally. “I had dreams”, he told the AHRC. “I had wishes, I had desires for my future. [But] I was seeing only the darkness around me… As a refugee I want to say we are not the criminals.”
Mental health experts report that detention has “undeniable immediate and long-term mental health impacts on asylum-seeking children and families”.
Troubling Effects of Detention
Professor Louise Newman reported that she is currently treating adults who she met as children in detention in the period 2000 to 2005. “I treat several people who I first met during the first round of detention as children, who have ongoing post traumatic symptoms and preoccupations…classical symptoms of having nightmares memories and recollections of things that happened to them that still remain troubling. Some have quite marked depression.”
It is clear that the consequences of detention can be long term, impacting on former detainees’ lives and relationships.
Detention can both exacerbate existing physical and mental health problems in children and create new problems. The longer that children are detained, the more likely they are to suffer the effects of detention. On Nauru Island there is currently no time limit on how long children can be detained for.
The AHRC has set out recommendations to the Australian Government advising that all children and their families be released into community detention or the community on bridging visas with a right to work. Additionally it is recommended that no child be sent offshore for processing unless it is clear that their human rights will be respected.
The AHRC have urged the Government to never again use the lives of children to achieve political or strategic advantage.