Today, May 26, 2011, is national Sorry Day in Australia. On May 26, 1997, the Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families was presented to the Australian Parliament. This report is better known as the Bringing Them Home Report. The report focused on the Stolen Generation, on the abuse of Aboriginal children, families, communities. Ever since 1997, many Australians have marked the event with a National Sorry Day. Of course, Sorry Day alone is not enough.
The Australian Human Rights Commission today issued a report, entitled 2011 Immigration Detention at Villawood: Summary of observations from visit to immigration detention facilities at Villawood.
Villawood is a private prison, run by Serco Australia. Comprised of two sections – Villawood Immigration Detention Centre (IDC) and Sydney Immigration Residential Housing (IRH) – Villawood is the jewel in the Australian immigrant detention crown.
The Australian Human Rights Commission “has raised concerns” about Villawood for over a decade.
According to the Commission Report, “As of 11 March 2011 there were 6819 people, including 1030 children, in immigration detention in Australia – 4304 on the mainland and 2515 on Christmas Island. More than half of those people had been detained for longer than six months, and more than 750 people had been detained for longer than a year.” Fifteen percent of those prisoners are children.
The section entitled “Children in Detention” begins: “As of 11 March 2011, there were 1030 children in immigration detention in Australia. The Commission has repeatedly raised concerns about the mandatory detention of children, the high number of children in immigration detention facilities, and the long periods of time many children are spending in detention. These concerns were reinforced by the Commission’s visit to Sydney IRH.”
In March, the Sydney IRH housed 27 people. Eight were children, three girls and five boys. Thirty percent of the Villawood `residents’ were children. The youngest child was four months old, and the oldest was 16. One was unaccompanied; one had been born in prison.
As it has done, repeatedly, for over a decade, the Commission raised concerns about the detention of children. These include:
• Child asylum seekers continue to be subjected to mandatory detention.
• Many children are held in immigration detention facilities, such as Sydney IRH. These are closed detention facilities. Call them what you like, they’re prisons.
• Many children spend long periods of time in immigration prisons. In Sydney IRH, all eight children had spent more than three months in detention. Seven had been in for more than six months. Three had spent more than a year behind bars.
• There is no judicial oversight for the immigration detention of children.
• There is no written policy at Sydney IRH identifying the delegated legal guardian for detained unaccompanied minors.
• There is no written policy regarding the care and supervision of unaccompanied minors detained at Sydney IRH.
• There are no independent observers for interviews with unaccompanied minors detained at Sydney IRH.
• There is no Memorandum of Understanding between DIAC and the New South Wales Department of Community Services regarding the welfare and protection of children in immigration detention at Sydney IRH or elsewhere in NSW.
Australia has a policy of immigrant `detention’ as a last resort, and for as limited a time as possible. This has been the official national, Federal policy since 2008. And yet, families with children and unaccompanied minors are sent to prison rather than community-based alternatives. There is no plan for community alternatives. The Commission is concerned.
Today, in Australia, is national Sorry Day. Tomorrow begins national Reconciliation Week. Meanwhile, new Stolen Generations pile up behind bars in immigrant prisons. Sorry.
(Photo Credit: Australian Human Rights Commission)