wire fence

Let me tell you what isn’t fun as an adult immigrant from New Zealand to Australia. It’s not just the whacky, bitey spider-snake things; it’s explaining the seemingly limitless powers of Peter Dutton, Border Force and Home Affairs to my colleagues back home.

In the last week since I told you about the NZ teen locked up in the adult Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation, I have appeared on NZ TV and written another piece trying to explain the whole mess. And readers, I have really tried. I asked Border Force more than ten questions about this minor in the last week, and received only this piece of fulsome bullshit that answers none of the questions I asked:

We are committed to keeping minors out of held detention, however from time to time there may be occasions where minors will be temporarily held in immigration detention. This could be as a result of airport turnarounds, people who are in the final stages of removal from Australia, or due to criminal or security issues.

A range of care, welfare and support arrangements are in place to provide for the needs of young people in detention. Service providers are contracted to provide age-appropriate health, education, recreational, and cultural services.

Where do I start? 

In regard to the alleged “educational services”, the teenager I have been in contact with, *H, says “that’s crap”. “I am meant to be in year 12. They send someone in for one hour a day and we just do activity sheets.”

And the health services? When H had what sounded like the flu, he was told to walk to the nurses’ station which is the furthest point from his room but he felt so unwell he couldn’t, and was bed-bound for days. When he eventually got there, he was offered Panadol. 

[Shadows of family separation policy haunt NZ boy stuck alone in detention]

He does, however, have access to some recreational services. H is able to use the gym at the centre — something I have been encouraging him to do, because it will help him sleep without the anti-psychotics that International Health and Medical Services staff wanted him to take.

But then I heard a story about three asylum seekers who were observed in the gym doing an exercise the guards interpreted as practice for wall jumping and they were promptly sent to Christmas Island. So what should I tell him? Move really slowly? How do you feel about yoga, son?

I even tried the National Children’s Commissioner Megan Mitchell’s office. She issued a statement in reply:

The Convention on the Rights of the Child requires that children only be detained as a measure of last resort and for the shortest possible period of time.

Last year, the UN Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child called on governments to ‘expeditiously and completely cease or eradicate the immigration detention of children’.

We know that prolonged detention can have a profoundly negative impact on the mental and emotional health and development of children.

Yes, prolonged detention is definitely having an impact on the mental and emotional health of H. I can confirm that, and ABF show no signs of easing up despite the diplomatic scrutiny of their NZ counterparts. H has been in the facility for close to four months. He was told he and another minor would be moved to a new unit in the immigration centre today, but that they would no longer have access to to the computer room.

When he asked why, he was told “because we have some money we have to spend before the end of the financial year”. H and the other young man have said they will refuse to shift. 

At this stage I will gladly accept readers’ tips on how I explain to New Zealanders why a not terribly criminal young person has been shifted so far from his family into an adult detention centre. ABF certainly aren’t interested in explaining themselves, or their use of all our money. 

Correction: an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated H had been in the Melbourne facility for six months. 

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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