A 10-year-old Vietnamese girl, who has spent a year living in detention centres across the country as an unaccompanied minor, calls her life in a detention centre in Darwin “very sad, depressing and hopeless”, in a note passed to a community visitor this week.

The note, given to a community visitor volunteer from the Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network, translates as follows:

“In here, our lives are very sad, depressing and hopeless. As each day passes, we feel heavy-hearted and lacking any sense of hope. We have no way of knowing what our future holds for us. All the Vietnamese living here have done so for over one year, they feel very sad, and do not know what else they can do. In summary, our lives in this place is extremely depressing, we are suffering and lack any sense of a future. We don’t know who will help us.”

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The unnamed girl arrived last March on a boat with her older teenage brother, as part of a larger group of unaccompanied minors from Vietnam. She is currently one of apparently  25 unaccompanied Vietnamese minors in the Darwin Airport Lodge, one of the government’s alternative places of detention. It currently houses 339 asylum seekers.

The Darwin Airport Lodge is her third place of detention, after first being moved to a detention centre in Western Australia, then to Port Augusta detention centre in South Australia and finally to Darwin at the start of the year.

When asked why the girl had been moved around so often, a spokesperson from the Department of Immigration told Crikey: “The placement of clients is made on an individual basis and takes into account a range of factors.”

However, the behaviour of the unaccompanied Vietnamese minors had played a role in where they were housed. “This cohort has a poor record of escapes and absconding from detention, including community detention,” added the spokesperson.

Twenty six unaccompanied Vietnamese minors had escaped from detention between July 1, 2010 and January 31, 2012 (the most up-to-date data available in time for the Crikey deadline). By the end of January, 18 of those children had been located.  It’s widely believed that those unaccompanied minors who fled had been taken in by the wider Vietnamese community.

The Vietnamese girl’s note talks about how the lives of the minors in detention is “very sad” and “extremely depressing”. Late last year Peter Morris from the Australian Medical Association told the joint select committee into Australia’s national detention centres that a nine-year-old detainee was hospitalised in Darwin last year after a suicide attempt. Morris said up to 33% of children in detention suffered depression.

Mental health support is available for young detainees and “they are receiving education and they can participate in a range of activities, including excursions,” said the Department of Immigration spokesperson.

Data from April 22 shows that 1029 minors whose claims for protection were currently being processed by the Department of Immigration. Of these, 589 are accommodated in community detention and 440 are in alternative places of detention — immigration residential housing, immigration transient accommodation and other facilities.

Unaccompanied minors still make up a large number of underage asylum seekers being processed by the department, with 389 unaccompanied minors currently in its care. Of these 389, 166 are having their claims processed in the community, 97 are in alternative places of detention on Christmas Island and 126 are in alternative places of detention — i.e. transient accommodation or immigration residential housing.