Sister Brigid Arthur at a rally protesting the treatment of asylum seekers

The Brigidine Sisters are not buying Department of Immigration and Border Protection claims that they can’t take asylum seeker children on day trips to the zoo because of a lack of adequate supervision.

As reported by Crikey yesterday, for the past four years the Brigidine Sisters in Melbourne have taken children (and sometimes their families) in the Broadmeadows detention centre out on day trips to go swimming, to the Collingwood Children’s Farm, out to picnics and on other excursions. Sister Brigid Arthur told the ABC the program helped kids and families feel as though they were not living in detention all the time.

“Anything that can entertain the kids … You can’t really fix up detention, but you can do a few things to ameliorate the worst aspects of it.”

About six months ago the program was suspended, pending review.

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection claimed that after reviewing the program run by the sisters, it determined the excursions did not have the appropriate amount of supervision, but said it would continue to run excursions for families with the supervision of Serco, the security company managing the detention facility.

Following media reports on the department’s decision to stop the program, the department issued a lengthy “correcting the record” media statement alleging that on two of the excursions run by a number of non-government organisations asylum seekers had obtained alcohol and prescription medicine, or were taken to places not approved by the department. The department did not specify which NGOs it meant.

Arthur told Crikey on Friday morning that the program had been deliberately run without the involvement of uniformed officers for Serco because it was designed to make children feel free, temporarily, from living in detention

“It’s a bit of ordinary sort of fun without feeling like they’re under scrutiny,” she said.

But to bring security guards on the trip would just keep kids feeling like they were in detention. In one trip to the pool where Serco accompanied the sisters, Arthur said security officers stood at either end of the pool while asylum seekers swam. They still felt like they were trapped, she said.

“They feel like criminals,” she said.

There had been no escape attempts during the excursions, Arthur said, stating she believed it was less likely for families to attempt to escape detention with nowhere to go.

Arthur said the Brigidine Sisters would continue to talk to the department about arranging excursions in the lead up to Christmas, but she was not confident the department would back down on the increased security over the excursions.

As of the end of October there were 118 asylum seekers in detention in the Melbourne facility, consisting of 66 men, 34 women and 18 children.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey