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Apr 24, 2012

‘Our lives are very sad’: a girl, 10, in detention makes her plea

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.

Amber Jamieson — Freelance journalist in New York

Amber Jamieson

Freelance journalist in New York

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.”

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.

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18 thoughts on “‘Our lives are very sad’: a girl, 10, in detention makes her plea

  1. Robert Barwick

    What planet are we on when we call the people imprisoned in detention centres “clients”?

  2. paddy

    I’m speechless….
    Quite the most depressing thing I’ve read all week.

  3. Meski

    … Waits for the conga-line of people who will brazenly justify doing this to a ten year old. Come on, I know you’re out there, ready to spruik your hate-filled bile.

  4. Tom

    On the eve of ANZAC day when flags will be waved and we’ll all collectively pat one another on the back about the good we did in the past ….. I’ll be asking who gave their lives so that point scoring gutless nitwits could race without any trace a shame toward such a totally disgusting situation? I’ll shed an extra tear tomorrow, not of grief but of shame and despair.

  5. shepherdmarilyn

    All those parents in parliament and still we come down to this because the fucking racist savages never learn.

  6. zut alors

    And keep in mind that all our major political parties (with the exception of the Greens) believe this is acceptable.

  7. shepherdmarilyn

    Yes and Rob Oakeshott says that because 148 of the 150 MHR’s think we should break the law and push them away to Iraq or somewhere other than here that we should do it.

    too bad about the people involved.

  8. monty

    Calling these desperate souls “clients” allows the maladministrators of this appalling system to rest well knowing that they have provided a ‘service’ thus achieving their KPI’s. It smacks of the same vile, management behaviour displayed by many in the business community – (refer to this morning’s superb rant from Mr Bernard Keane.)

  9. Clytie

    So, in addition to imprisoning adults who have not broken the law (asylum seekers), we’re imprisoning children? These Vietnamese kids already escaped a totalitarian regime: they don’t need another one masquerading as a democracy.

    I speak Vietnamese, and I know the community very well. “This cohort” doesn’t disappear into hiding places (escape detention) unless they are clearly threatened. Some of this threat could come from greedy people intimidating their families. Look for those with the most money, not the least. As in all communities, a small number of unprincipled people do a lot of damage.

    These kids could quite safely be supported in the community, as long as adequate supervision and information was provided. They need to know that it’s against the law for anyone to hurt or exploit them, and that they can trust the police and support services to help them.

    I would recommend placing these kids in rural towns, especially those with a small local Vietnamese population. Supervise contact by others (especially online), and get the kids involved in school and other community opportunities. Vietnamese kids love to study, and they need a direct purpose.

    Dammit, I’d take that little girl in myself, if I weren’t too crook to be useful. She’d fit right into our family and the local community. (It’s times like these that I hate this disease the most. 🙁 )

    Any child deserves better than being imprisoned and isolated. Why aren’t we doing more for these kids?

  10. kennethrobinson2

    It took me a few hours to cool down after reading about this girl, as a Vietnan Veteran, I have seen many horrible things happen, 43 years ago, but this is happening now in what was a great country, the only thing that I can say is lets keep thr refugees, and deport the POLITICAL SCUM that are letting this happen, put them on a leaky boat to nowhere.
    My family has the medals from my war, being on the wrong side, and actually believing the crap that we were told, leaves me deeply shamed, its no use trying to shame Gillard Abbott and co, they have no morality and are beyond human feeling, I just cant believe how low our political people have sunk to, but if one looks at whats going on in parliament at the moment, anythings possible.