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And So This is Christmas - Children in Detention on Christmas Island

By Yvette Vignando - 20th December 2010

It's so easy to get lazy about political and international issues when you (read "I") are comfortable in a middle class home with your children well-fed, safe from persecution and well-educated in an Australian school. Read on please ... this is not a political announcement. Because I am busy with bookkeeping, blogging, cooking, housework, writing, mothering and socialising I have not spent nearly enough time researching the issue of children of asylum-seekers being held in mandatory detention in Australia.

But I still want to blog about children in detention - because an Australian website focused on children's social and emotional wellbeing simply can not ignore the issue. So this will be part 1 of a blog, followed up later in the week by a more researched commentary.

I'm ashamed to say that I thought the current Australian government had eradicated all traces of the former government's policies "when it comes to" (as Kevin Rudd used to say) children in detention. My husband had stopped wearing his "Children Don't Belong in Detention" T-shirt, and until yesterday, I had given the issue very little thought. When I told my husband that I had read a comment on Twitter about 4, 6 and 8 year old orphans (victims of the recent tragic boat accident at Christmas Island) being held in mandatory detention, he told me confidently "We don't keep kids in detention in Australia any more, it's probably just temporary ... they are in the community now ... "

Well, I decided to find out, and in the process, I realised that it's actually not easy to find out exactly what is going on - and that's why there will be a part 2 for this blogpost.

The mum in me thinks this:

  • young children who have been orphaned as a result of the awful boat accident on Christmas Island are probably best staying with people familiar to them and who speak their own language.
  • it's possible that the reported 4, 6 and 8 year old children are being very well looked after and are better off staying for now with other people they knew who were rescued from the boat and, who hopefully are able to find it in their hearts to care about them.
  • the Australian government surely could not be heartless enough to intend to keep those orphaned children in detention of any kind and surely will be looking for appropriate foster carers who can speak their language and who can help them through the hell they are going through ... I hope this is true but I don't know. We will find out.

In the meantime, I did want to share this information with you and ask you - what do you think?

According to Department of Immigration statistics, as at 29 October 2010, there were 456 children in detention on the mainland, and 341 children in detention on Christmas Island. It is true to say that where possible, the detention is of a "different kind" but at the end of this blogpost I have shared a link to a blogpost on MamaMia's site where a migration lawyer tells you what that "different" detention is all about. It's not good.

According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, children are still subject to mandatory detention on Christmas Island even though this is not required by the Australian Migration Act. Families with children and unaccompanied minors are held on Christmas Island in a closed immigration detention facility called a "Construction Camp". Children are no longer kept in high security immigration detention centres in Australia but the current government's policy is that "offshore" arrivals are placed in mandatory detention regardless of age; the Australian Human Rights Commission states that Australia's immigration detention system breaches the Convention on the Rights of the Child (an international obligation) because it does not allow for child detainees to challenge their detention in a court, or anywhere. If you want to read more, click here.

And you can also read this post by Mia Freedman which includes information from a migration lawyer about what it is really like for kids in immigration detention.

I admit this is a complex issue, but in my opinion, a child who is brought to Australia by parents who are seeking asylum (however they arrive), is entitled to the most compassion Australia can offer, while their parents' claims are being dealt with. Like most parents I assume, I am extremely concerned about the impact that long or short-term restricted detention of any kind will have on a child.

Please watch out for part 2 of this blogpost with some more facts to share. In the meantime though, what do you say about children being kept in mandatory detention of any kind on Christmas Island?

P.S. I just read about a fabulolus initiative to send toys to the kids on Christmas Island - read this great blogpost and maybe you can help too

image free Salvatore Vuono

Comments (7)


Thank you Yvette for writing this post about an appallingly sad situation.

The reality of the situation for the children held in detention should be known by all.

We need to ensure we look after these children with the care and compassion they deserve. Yes, It is about what we can do and right now we are not doing nearly enough.

I hope that we (as a country) are not changing the way we treat those far less fortunate than ourselves. To be honest I am worried that we are not as compassionate as we could be, should be or as we have perhaps been in the past. I think as a society we are changing and not necessarily for the better. I hope I am proved wrong.

It takes a village to raise a child and right or wrong, some parents have died to get their children to ours - lets take on that responsibility and help those children.

Thanks for the link in the PS - it has been wonderful to help (albiet in such a small way).

From experience working with

From experience working with some (I'm not an expert in this particular area) refugee children they are aware of the dire circumstances that they come from. They are exposed to situations in their homeland and other countries they have escaped to in the interim that are unthinkable as adults let alone as children and the memories are burnt into their cells. This experience affects their daily functioning from attending school, socialising and sleep to name a few. They may learn to function better with these memories but they will never forget them. Therefore I do not question why these parents have tried to leave and escape their country to prevent further damage to their children emotionally, psychologically, physically and spiritually. If I was put in the same position I would do nothing less to protect my children. For me it's not about questioning why they are here. It's about what can we do. I'm sure the government are attempting to cover all bases to achieve an appropriate outcome for all. We are not the sort of country to intentionally harm

YvetteVignando's picture

Brief Update

Helen Tzarimas kindly shared this update on Twitter just now: "Immigration says it's sent carers to look after orphaned kids from Christmas Island tragedy. 2 have relatives,1 is alone. "

More information coming in a part 2 of this blogpost on Thursday. Thank you so much for reading.

And also thank you so much for donating to the appeal mentioned in the P.S. above.

if you're desperate enough you'll do anything...

I guess if we lived in their country of origin we might have a better idea what they are dealing with Sunila. Perhaps the risks are so great where they come from, that the risk of escape by a dangerous sea voyage is seen as the lesser of two evils.

As to money to travel... I've heard of people borrowing large amounts of money and paying it back later. I've also heard of rich people who are at greater risk in their home country because they are also educated, hold views very different from the government, and consequently persecuted for it. Being rich doesn't mean you are immune from the need to seek asylum.

Also, I'm interested to know how you would educate people in another country about the perils of sea travel? Advertise on their government owned television? Put it in a government controlled newspaper? It's hard enough ensuring educations messages get out to the people they need to in Australia, leave alone attempting it in another country. Yes, I agree we need to do something to prevent these people from taking a risky voyage, but I doubt educating them about the risks would help. How about working on giving meaningful aid through channels that ensure the needy people get it (rather than their government siphoning off the best of the money) and helping to build peaceful and productive communities. That would deal with the real issues.

Christmas Island - children in detention

Thank you for writing this article.

To the writer of 'The World Situation' comment - you cannot comment on anyone's personal reasons for leaving their home country because you just don't know. The fact that over 90% of so -called 'boat people' are granted residency in Australia by this Government and the previous Howard Government tells me that 90% of these people are genuine refugees! I have tried to see things from their point of view - and I know that if I was threatened in my home country I would have tried to do exactly what they are doing. Especially to make a safe place for my children. We cannot generalise and put all of these people in the same category - each one is an individual and each one is a human being. Thank you for taking my comment - Rosie.

The World Situation

I completely understand the concern of parents in Australia with regards to kids being held in detention centers. Children should not be kept like prisoners. My question is that how can you hold a Government responsible for actions that were completely out of their hands. I'm no fan of Julia Gillard by the way. All I'm saying is that how come people or parents on these boats don't think of the risks they are taking before taking such steps. If they had money to pay the people smugglers, then they must have been pretty fine where they were living. I think that these people need to take more responsibility for their actions/decisions before embarking on such dangerous voyages. There could be dire circumstances involved in some of these cases but I'm pretty sure that the majority might have been fine in their respective communities. I come from and am presently living in a Southeast Asian country and I am well aware of the kinds of poor communities we have in this part of the world. People lead their lives within their means and most of them go along fine. I am wondering why these few are packing up their children and looking for a way out in which they have more to lose from than gain. So really, the Australian Government policies have less to do with the decisions people make and the consequences that come later.
A child's responsibility first and foremost rests with the parents so I'm a bit puzzled as to how come parents can justify this decision they made. And secondly, how come the Governments of these people are not doing or claiming any responsibility for their people.
We need to face the facts clearly and squarely that people in this world have gone completely beyond ethical and moral principles. Needs and wants are two completely different things. If we stuck to the needs, we would be happier people across developed and developing countries. This situation can change if the problem is nipped in the bud. People need to be educated about the perils and the risks involved. Maybe that is one way for the Australian Gov to consider. Use the media in an effective way to communicate to the local people. Conduct research on the people who are willing to take these risks and communicate the findings with those Governments. I think this will be a better way then setting up offshore detention centers. This is my opinion so I take responsibility for what I have said here even though it may offend a few.
Sunila (clinical psychologist)

Thank you for writing this

Thank you for writing this Yvette. I think so many of us care deeply about this issue but are just not sure what it is we can do. Finding out the facts as you have done is a great first step. Telling people what is really going on as you are trying to do is an excellent 2nd step.
The friend I met with today is a GP and speaks a small amount of Arabic. She is v concerned about these issues too and is planning on finding out if she can access Villawood, probably in her capacity as a doctor. It was just a reminder that so many people care.
Chris Bowen, the Immigration Minister, has young children. I used to work with him. I cannot believe that he really thinks that the current policy is in any way right.
I look forward to your next blog post.
Love Michelle (mamabook)

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