Saturday, January 22, 2011



A Brigidine sister who runs an asylum seeker project is taking on the Commonwealth Government over the detention of child asylum seekers, reports The Age.Sister Brigid this week sought the release of four Afghan youths at the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation centre at Broadmeadows, Victoria, pending the outcome of a challenge to their detention.

Her application was rejected by the High Court, but the substantial case is still to be heard. The four arrived on Christmas Island last February and were transferred to Broadmeadows in March.

Litigation is not something she is "terribly comfortable with", she says, but she is prepared to undertake it if that's what it takes to "achieve good for these young people".

What troubled her most about the court's decision was the fact that the government accepted that the boys had suffered significant mental harm in detention over the last 11 months, and would continue to suffer, yet insisted their detention was legal.

What compounded the disappointment is the fact that their incarceration is at odds with the stated intention to detain children as a last resort and move them out of detention and into community accommodation as quickly as possible.

Until the immigration minister Chris Bowen decides otherwise - or their applications for refugee status are accepted - the four will remain in what has the appearance of a home for around 130 lost boys, but is for them very much a prison.

The aspect of detention of children Sister Brigid finds most disturbing is the lack of meaningful activities and challenges.

''In a place like this, there is no room for independent decisions and the more compliant they are, the better they are seen to be. It's as though everything is on hold for them. They see that in terms of freedom and that is true, but I see it also in their overall development."

''When they're telling you they're sad and depressed, at first you think they're sad and depressed like a lot of other kids ... . Then you find out they have self-harmed or maybe tried to commit suicide and you realise this is at a different level.'

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