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Adelaide Centacare slams Govt deaf ears on child detainee report

The Centacare Catholic welfare agency has condemned the Federal Government for casting doubt on the integrity of a new report on children in detention.

Psychiatrists who surveyed 20 detainee children say all of the children had witnessed self harm and physical violence in detention centres. The Immigration Minister is sceptical of the damning report.

Centacare head Dale West says he is not surprised that Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock has not accepted the findings.

"It's an absolute indictment on our system of detention in Australia that a report can find the highest levels of mental illness amongst children ever recorded in modern medical literature has taken place in our detention centres," Mr West said.

"And our best response our minister can make is to focus on whether there may have been some exaggeration in these claims and that these are people are failed asylum seekers."

Meanwhile Sr Patty Fawkner, Director of the Sydney-based Uniya Jesuit Social Justice Centre, said the report proves Australia is "morally culpable".

"If it is true that the moral fibre and integrity of a country is reflected in how it treats the most vulnerable in its midst, then Australia has failed monumentally."

The study, backed by some of Australia's most eminent psychiatrists, assessed ten families with twenty children, aged from 3 to 19. Zachary Steel, a clinical psychologist in the School of Psychiatry at the University of New South Wales, who coordinated the study said, "There isn't a cohort of children as distressed as this group that we have been able to find anywhere in the medical literature in the world."

Sr Fawkner said we "can only conclude that children in detention are being psychologically abused".

"Detention centres are no place for children and, in light of this study, keeping them there may well constitute institutional child abuse."

ABC/Uniya Jesuit Social Justice Centre

The mental health implications of detaining asylum seekers (Medical Journal of Australia) |
Mental illness curse for young asylum seekers (The Age)
Children in detention suffer a 'living nightmare': study (ABC TV Lateline)

National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention (Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission) | Australian Psychological Society submission | Asylum Seekers Centre submission

14 May 2003