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Unaccompanied minors

The other day Richard Tonkin asked Marilyn Shepherd what happened to sole children in detention. This piece – the first in a series and a companion piece to Mustafa– is Marilyn's response to that question.

by Marilyn Shepherd

In 1998 Human Rights Commissioner, Mr Chris Sidoti, investigated all of Australia’s detention centres in response to many complaints from the refugees detained. This was pre-Woomera and the following is one of the case studies which should have alerted the minister in 1999 to enormous problems for those children who were forced to come alone.

Two Cambodian brothers aged 16 and 18 arrived in Australia in June 1990 on a boat code-named the Collie and were held in Port Hedland until October 1995 when they were released on bridging visas pending their protection claims being determined.

They had arrived as unaccompanied minors and in 1997 they told Mr Sidoti:

Port Hedland is a very isolated place. The detention centre is near the ocean and there are high fences all around the outside of the building, separating the centre from the rest of the world. It is a very quiet place with dead trees and grass..when we first got to Port Hedland we did enjoy it a bit, it was a big place and we could see the big blue sky. This was better than the small building we were locked in at Darwin.

After the first few months at Port Hedland my brother and I started to feel bored and nervous. We were nervous as we didn’t know what would happen in the future.

In the last year of my detention in Port Hedland I was in a very bad state emotionally. Most nights I would lie in bed feeling nervous wondering about what would happen to us. We had not heard anything for a long time about our court case and felt that we could be deported any day. Our sleep was also disturbed by the guards checking on us every night. They would open the door and make sure everyone was asleep in their rooms.

During the last couple of months of the five and a half years we spent in detention we were really depressed as we heard the Australian government was going to send us back to Cambodia.

Mentally we were sick and we had no lawyers and no-one else we could talk to about how we felt. I was so depressed at that time I had nightmares every night. I also had headaches from worrying about what might happen to us and these would last for days. Things would upset me easily, I could not control my emotions and my anger.

I took medicine like sleeping pills and anti-depressants for my problems, but this didn’t help me. I took medication every night for the last few months I was in detention. I was bored and nervous as I didn’t know what would happen.

The brothers were granted bridging visas only after the Indochina Refugee Association legal proceedings against the department in the Federal court on the basis they were being detained unlawfully. The matter was settled out of court by the issuing of the visas and it is very important to remember they were legally children when they arrived.

Subject to health and security checks the brothers were granted protection visa in 1998.

Mr Gerry Hand of the ALP was the minister during this episode and he was later appointed by Minister Ruddock as a member of the purportedly independent Advisory group to “advise” the minister.

From 1999 when Woomera was commissioned over 200 unaccompanied children passed through the system. As we began our legal representation of the people in Woomera, we discovered that many were suffering just like the Cambodia boys, but so far none have been imprisoned as long as they were.

The difference has been to have a constant presence near the centre, where Port Hedland had no-one near it.

In November 2001 Commissioner Sev Ozdowski announced that he would conduct the countries most far reaching investigation into children in detention, with a particular focus on the 53 minors who had come alone.

At that time there were 582 children in detention in Australia, many had been detained with their parents for about 2 years and were in the process of filing claims to the federal court or in the process of going home.

Dr Ozdowski told the Age when he called the inquiry:

I have been concerned for some time about the mental health of the children in detention centres. I do not believe the system at this time provides the best protection for children.

I was hearing plenty of allegations of inappropriate use of force against young people in riot situations and I hear of people being put in isolation cells and police lock-ups.

The most challenging case for me was that of a young Afghan boy, 8 years old who was wandering for half a year without a proper guardian and without proper care in Woomera.

The minister welcomed the enquiry and promised to co-operate constructively. His spokesperson said:

We are not happy with children in detention but we are not the ones that have brought them to Australia. I hope the enquiry will look at the motivation of people who sent children alone on boats. I believe some of the unaccompanied children had been deliberately sent by their parents to establish refugee claims.

The enquiry was to examine:

1. If Australia’s detention of children is in breach of its international obligations to the United Nations Convention on the rights of the Child.

2. How detention affects the mental health and long-term development of children.

3. The adequacy of detention conditions, including education, culture and security practices.

4. Alternatives to detention and an assessment of the Woomera trial of community based detention of women and children.

In the Australian on 29th November 2001, Minister Ruddock reiterated the claims of blackmail by parents of minors sent alone:

One of the reasons we have large numbers of unaccompanied minors in Australia is that people are desirous of getting young family members out into situations where they might be able to settle and eventually claims might be made for a migration outcome based on the Convention on the rights of the child.

In terms of winding back or undermining the mandatory detention arrangements for people who are unauthorised border arrivals we will not allow that to occur.

We believe the arrangements we have in place meet our international obligations.

Ms Julia Gillard, opposition spokesperson on immigration, welcomed the enquiry and said of the minister’s claims of the children being sent deliberately to establish claims

I urge the minister if he has evidence of this to ensure it is placed on the public record before the enquiry so that in future we can take action to ensure children in the future are not used that way.

Also in November 2001 Ms Barbara Rogalla, a former nurse at Woomera, and Trish Highfield, a Sydney childcare specialist, delivered a paper at a conference to the World Organisation Against Torture in Tampere, Finland.

Barbara claimed:

Torture at Woomera was the mental suffering of children in the course of day to day life inside. Torture does not remain hidden and the Australian experience is no exception. Detained children are subjected to severe pain and suffering based on discrimination inflicted with the consent or acquiescence of the Government.

Routine awakening by the guards during random night patrols, including the flashing of torches and the repeating of the children’s names can lead to children developing fears about sleeping. One father told me his child would resist being put to bed and would often collapse exhausted, only to wake screaming with nightmares.

Shayan Badraie suffered severe depression and stopped eating after prolonged detention at Woomera and then Villawood. The clue to Shayan’s torture is the interplay of the medical treatment and detention imperatives, where eating and drinking in hospital meant he was well enough to return to detention. Inside detention he would stop eating and be re-admitted to the hospital.

Government policy of the mandatory detention of children ensured that Shayan would receive treatment without ever getting well because detention reactivated his condition.

The Sydney Morning Herald in the weekend of 15/16 December carried stories of some of the children, and further reports from specialists in child care and advocates for refugees and asylum seekers.

The minister had been to Geneva to attempt to convince the world to follow his policies of deterrence and mandatory detention for all asylum seekers.

In an article titled Barbed Wire Playground, Tony Stephens interviewed Ms Jacquie Everitt who is working towards a master in international law and is a refugee advocate, who said:

Some come on battered boats, others by air. Most children who arrive in Australia are part of a family, but sometimes they are alone pushed into the hands of people smugglers by parents desperate to buy them a chance of safety in another land. Many arrive seriously traumatised.

Is there any other country prepared to lock up, open-endedly, children who have not been charged with any crime? These children who have already made a frightening and perilous journey to get to Australia are possibly already among the most traumatised children in the world, have their trauma compounded by being taken to a forbidding place and locked behind razor wire, their rights neatly incised.

They are out of sight of the Australian people. If we don’t see them, we don’t know they are human. They can’t be real.

It’s an irony that Australian law provides for mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse by professionals – and mandatory locking up of child asylum seekers. We call both these practices government policy. One protects, the other destroys.

These children are suffering behind the wire at the hands of government policy. Just think of the wasted humanity.


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That flatly contradicts your claim. Again.

Marilyn Shepherd: "The Department of Immigration said the agreement was "no admission of guilt"."

That flatly contradicts your claim that Philipa Goodwin admitted that she tortured children, doesn't it?

You say "Locking up children is torture", but where did Philipa Goodwin admit she "tortured" children?

Once again you have disappointed me. You said you had access to an admission by Philipa Goodwin, a Department of Immigration official, that she tortured children. That would be an extraordinary, indeed ground shaking thing if true.

Now, as is your usual practice, link us to a source stating the exact opposite.

You are obviously a very compassionate person. You never cease implying that much, in fact.

Doesn't it worry you that the causes you undertake may be fatally jeopardised by your noteworthy tendency to make stark empirical claims either unsupported by evidence, or (over and over and over) starkly refuted by any such evidence that you provide?

It's Godwin

Alan, temporary protection visas are gone, the Pacific solution is gone, detention as a first resort is gone.

Read Evans' speech and stop going about Rudd being a liar and a fraud without supporting evidence.

And Eliot, read this and consider. Locking up children is torture: it is forbidden under the refugee convention and the convention on the rights of the child and therefore it breaches the civil and political rights and the convention against torture.

Saturday, March 4, 2006

Eleven-year-old Iranian refugee boy, Shayan Badraie, who suffered psychological injuries during his time spent inside Australia's immigration detention centres, will receive a Federal Government payout of AU$400,000 in compensation. The government will also pay his family's legal bill of more than $1 million.

Between 2000 and 2002 the Badraie family were incarcerated behind the razorwire of the (now mothballed) Woomera Detention Facility, a remote desert camp in outback South Australia - and later sent to the Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney. In 2001, video footage of his condition was smuggled out of Villawood, inciting national debate over Prime Minister John Howard's controversial policy of detaining children.

Badraie's family lawyer, Rebecca Gilsenan, said the family are "looking forward to living a normal life in the community. The settlement will enable the treatment he needs to somehow rectify the damage done in the detention centres. The fact the Government has settled the case indicates a serious concern on their part they were going to be found guilty of negligence," Gilsenan told reporters.

Shayan, his father and stepmother arrived in Australia in 2000, and were sent immediately to the notorious Woomera desert camp. During his 17 months incarceration, Shayan stopped drinking, eating and speaking.

"He witnessed a series of incredibly traumatic and violent events, the sort of events no adult or no child should be exposed to," Gilsenan said. "Within a year of being detained at the detention centre... he had developed psychiatric illness to the point of diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder and later depression," she said.

The court heard evidence from former senior immigration official Philippa Godwin that detention could damage the mental health of refugees - directly contradicting the Government's claims the centres were safe. Opposition immigration spokesman Tony Burke said: "Children should never have been put in detention and money will never undo the damage and pain."

The Department of Immigration said the agreement was "no admission of guilt". Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone says she does not believe a $400,000 is a backdown. Vanstone said an offer was made to the Badraie family's lawyer some time ago but they turned it down.

Compared with similar countries, Australia has some of the toughest policies in the world against refugee arrivals. Policies include immediate mandatory detention of boat arrivals, the detention of workers and students who overstay their visas are sent to detention camps under harsh conditions. Immigration detainees often languish in limbo with some up to six years while their cases are being heard. These camps have been condemned by many international human rights groups.

Greens senator Kerry Nettle says "hundreds of children have been mentally scarred by their time in immigration detention and further claims are planned." She blames the Federal Government's policy of mandatory detention.

"The Government has accepted the responsibility for the health consequences of their policy of mandatory detention," Senator Nettle said. "There is a raft of children, we are talking hundreds of children, and adults, who have had their mental health significantly impacted by the policy of mandatory detention."

She rejected that the Federal Government deserve congratulations over settlement: "To have gone through these proceedings, and spent the amount of money they have spent, to put Shayan's mother in the witness box for two weeks, is not an indication of a willingness and public accountability by the Government to accept responsibility for their actions," Senator Nettle said.

Lawyer Rebecca Gilsenan says the landmark case may pave the way for more litigation by other refugee families. It is the first time the Department has conceded that a child has been psychologically harmed in its detention.

Gilsenan says the outcome sets a precedent for other detainees. "The problems that Shayan experienced were systemic problems rather than ones that were just specific to him, although the particular treatment that he received was disgraceful," she said. "So it's quite possible that there are other children or even adults out there who lived in a similar environment during that time in immigration detention and possibly have similar problems."

She says she hopes the systemic problems highlighted in the case will now be addressed. "I can only hope that the Government takes notice of this and doesn't continue to spend taxpayer money on having to compensate people for treating them in a disgraceful way in immigration detention."



Letting me down gently

Marilyn, hi!

Can I take it that you won't provide a link to any source confirming your claim that Philipa Goodwin admitted that she tortured children?

And that I can forget about drawing anyone's attention to such a statement by Philipa, because contrary to your claim, the statement simply doesn't exist?

And that you're just letting me down gently by ignoring this my most recent request for the evidence? Is that it?

You can tell me. I'll be fine.

Alan, join Eliot

What would you like Rudd to do to fix those problems that were all caused by Howard - twitch his nose like Samantha in Bewitched and it will all be solved?

Alan, you hate Rudd and it wouldn't matter what he did you would still hate him. Even though he has never hurt you or anyone else.


Marilyn Shepherd, I think you have forgotten that it was Rudd who promised to fix these problems irrespective who caused them. You are a lot like each other – all talk and little fact. I don't hate Rudd. It is just that I can spot a con-man a mile away, and Rudd is in Gold Medal territory.

Fiona: Time (indeed, more than time) to cut the abuse, Alan. (Hence the cut to your post.)

Marilyn's question

Marilyn Shepherd: "Eliot, what the hell does Georgia have to do with locking up young kids alone in Australia?"

Well, the emerging child refugee situation there? I thought you'd care?

I mean, if they come here as refugees, they will be typical of those who might fall into the clutches of Philipa Goodwin and other Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs torturers.

Is she still with the Department? Do you have a link to her admission that she tortured children? I'd like to see that if you could provide it. Thanks.

Alan, Rudd will not use it.

Alan, you simply don't care, you want them to use the damn thing for the "illegals" but it will not happen.

Eliot, what the hell does Georgia have to do with locking up young kids alone in Australia?

Rudd will not

Marilyn Shepherd, you still have not told us how you know that Rudd will not use the camp on Christmas Island. I just want to know how you can be so sure. If you are relying on the fact that he tries to look passionate about things you are in for a big shock. He is as slimy as any pollie we have ever had. Just to bring you back to the world of the living, consider this.

How much high speed broadband has been rolled past your place, or have they even started yet?.

How many technical schools have been started in your area?.

How many schools have recieved their computers in your area?.

How much have the hospital waiting lists been reduced?.

What about housing affordability, has it improved in your area?.

He is all talk (some of it Mandarin) but he is travelling in style around the world and getting his bottom smacked where ever he goes.

So enough stalling, tell us how you know he is not going to use his concentration camp.

Link to report

Here's the link to the eye-witness account of 'boys' being shot in Georgia.

Lined up along the roadside they thought they were about to be executed. Two boys approached in a car she said. Both were shot dead. A man in the street killed.

Three more boys gunned down she said, but she doesn't know if they died.

Too important to go undocumented

Marilyn Shepherd: "Godwin admitted responsibility. Got that? Do you think I simply made it up?"

Oh, goodness gracious no, mercy me. I'd just love to see the reference for myself, that's all. It's far too important to go undocumented or unseen by the world.

You know, where Philipa Goodwin actually admitted torturing children. Have you got that reference?

I mean, torturing children is actually a criminal offence quite apart from anything else.

Let's make the world completely, fully aware of what Philipa did. And admitted to doing, as you have said.

So, have you got a reference for that?

I mean, what happened to Philipa? Is she still with DIMIA? She was only acting-Deputy Secretary, so I hate to think a self-confessed child torturer is still on the loose inside the Department

Also, there are about 150,000 Georgian refugees crowded into a camp outside the Russian occupied zone around Gori, I hear.

A lot of them will be children, some of the orphaned due to Russian execution squads keeping busy around the occupied zone, judging from this morning's eyewitness reports on the ABC's AM radio programme. (I'll get the transcripts shortly for you, when they go on-line)

So many of those children could be coming here soon. It's important the authorities over there know that Philipa Goodwin actually admitted torturing children, especially if she's still with the Department.

So, let's get her, hey?

Alan, it was not just completed

Alan, Rudd had nothing to do with the Christmas Island concentration camp, he will not have anything to do with the Christmas Island concentration camp, and it has not “just” been finished.

Except to take down miles of razor wire fences.

As for Godwin, I don't know why she and all her colleagues are not in jail because they should be in cells close to Ruddock, Howard, Downer and the rest of the rotten bastards.

Now stop trying to bait me over people you don't give a flying frog about.

Answer not completed

 Marilyn Shepherd, I am not trying to bait you. All I want are some answers regarding Rudd's concentration camp. Smith says the Rudd governement will use when the time is right, but you say they will not. Who are we to believe, you or a Cabinet Minister? Rudd is in charge of the country (when he is here) so the camp is his, in the same way you say the camp was Howard's. Get into the real world, the camp is there and it will be used, otherwise they would dismantle it.

Eliot, trust me - she did

Godwin admitted responsibility. Got that? Do you think I simply made it up?

Jacquie Everett ihas almost finished writing a book about Shayan. Why don't you buy a copy?

Philipa Goodwin admitted "she tortured the children"?

Marilyn Shepherd: "Shayan Badraei settled for $400,000 compensation last year for what the former secretary of the department, Philipa Goodwin, admitted was negligence and torture."

I'm glad Philipa Goodwin finally admitted that she tortured the children. I tried Googling that to find out more, but nothing came up.

I did find this, though:

After months of hearings, the boy's lawyers accepted an out-of-court settlement offer yesterday of ''$400,000 by government solicitors'', a spokeswoman for legal firm Maurice Blackburn Cashman said.

Would an out-of-court settlement normally involve "admissions"?

Where did Philipa Goodwin admit "she tortured the children"?

Do you really care?

Eliot, I don't suppose you really care, but some of the children were smuggled out of the country with their parents and have settled as citizens of New Zealand. Shayan Badraei settled for $400,000 compensation last year for what the former secretary of the department, Philipa Goodwin, admitted was negligence and torture.

He is also a citizen and suffering still.

Barbed-wire playground

Thanks for this important information, Marilyn.

For those interested, here's a link to the 2001 Tony Stephens article, Barbed-wire playground, that Marilyn mentions.

The circumstances of a number of children are mentioned in it, including a boy Shayan Badraie, a girl of 15 called 'Qamar' for the purposes of the article, a Rwandan boy called "Benjamin", 15 year old Parviz Avesta, 13 year old was Shana Avesta amongst others.

These would all be young adults now. Have you any news of their situtation now, Marilyn?

Ruddock's hell realm

Within Buddhism the belief is that one inhabits hell realms within this life. It isn't something that comes after death although if the current life is a poor showing then future hell realms of greater ferocity await. One of the most readily identifiable hell realms is that inhabited by "hungry ghosts" who are ever hungry and never satiated. I think this is a dominant hell realm by which I mean I think there are very many "hungry ghosts" in our world.

I suggest that Ruddock is currently living in a hell realm of his own manufacture. The moral collapse of Ruddock over the years of his ministerial authority was evident in his face and eyes.

Others of the same period also occupied their own hell realms - Amanda Vanstone was clearly a person capable of eating her own weight in cheese at a single sitting which is punishment enough. John H. was married to Mrs John H. who, as someone else put it, was the Hyacinth Bouquet of Kirribilli House. Ghastly.

Then there is "Thick" Mick Keelty - for whom a special hell awaits in which he will be in unceasing dialogue with the ghosts of the SIEV-X.

People become the punishment they deserve.

Alan, read my articles, then get back to me

Alan, you flat out hate Kevin Rudd so you would blame him if an asteroid destroyed earth tomorrow.

Now, read my articles about Ruddock's cruelty towards people you hate as much as you hate Rudd and then get back to me with some commonsense.

Rudd will not allow that place to be used and Michael Danby's statement that it is like a nazi concentration camp will seal its fate.

So if you cannot begin to talk one word of sense, say nothing.

Unless Rudd locks up a bunch of kids today and doesn't let them out for five years or so.


Marilyn Shepherd, as you seem to be the WD expert on concentration camps and torture perhaps you can answer a couple of questions.

If Philipa Goodwin admitted to torturing children why is she not in gaol?.

If Rudd is going to close down Christmas Island, why have they just completed the concentration camp and invited the press in to see it, and why has Chris Evans said they will use it?

Phillip Ruddock's response to kids in detention inquiry

Dr Sev Ozdowski was the HREOC commissioner responsible for the inquiry into children in detention. He gave some additional background to it at a recent speech.

After HREOC approved the Terms of Reference for the Inquiry I met with Minister Ruddock and informed him of the Commission’s decision. The Minister in response expressed his utmost displeasure in no uncertain terms. The Minister simply told me that “if you dare to conduct the Inquiry there will be no job for you as long as I sit around the Cabinet table”.

On 28 November 2001 the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention was publicly announced.

It took over two years to complete.  In April 2004 I presented the then Attorney General Hon. Philip Ruddock MP with copy of my finalized report for tabling in Parliament under HREOC Act.  The report was tabled on the Budget Day 13 May 2004 by Hon. Tony Abbott, MP, Leader of the House (and not by the Attorney General as it would be normally the case).

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