Stop Detention of Children

Monday, April 15th, 2013

An Unaccompanied Minor in Detention Center

 “We had no choice but to secretly leave our house. My wife is still left behind in Sri Lanka. We are afraid that they will try to abduct and kill us. I’m most afraid of them abducting my son from school, so l fled with my child,” Magedara, 50 year old father of Lavindra opens his testimony. To live in an immigration detention center (Rudenim) is a challenging experience for Lavindra. “It is not a pleasant place to live in. I can’t go to school and there is no space to play. The food here is not good and I miss sleeping next to my mama”.

 “My son misses his mother. Every day he says he wants to go home to be with his mother. He wants to go to school with his friends again. I just hope he will be able to see his mother soon, even if it is in this detention center,” says Magedara.

The story about the flight of Lavindra and his father is just one of the many. Innocent children have had to leave their homes and friends to run away, losing not only important years of education but their dreams about a better future. Facing threats of persecution and serious human rights abuses with no protection from the authorities, parents are left with a trauma making them reluctant to ever return. Forced to flee they started an odyssey full of hardships often leave them stranded in a crowded immigration detention center.

Lavindra is not the only child living in the detention center. There is Mohammad from Myanmar, 7 years old, the 8 year old Ra’idah from Srilanka and 30 more children held here. They are stranded here missing their families and friends back home, longing to be in school. Learning mathematics or drawing pictures seems like a memory from far away. There are many wishes and dreams locked away in the immigration detention center.

Living in detention for the asylum seeking children is a nightmare they never imagined. The detention center with the capacity of sheltering up to 100 persons is now occupied by 258 persons from various countries and cultures. Many detainees who aren’t lucky enough to get a space in the limited rooms have no other choice but to use alleys, floors and any place that offers some shelter from the rain and the heat of the sun as their makeshift homes. And a wide range of problems subsequently emerge due to this condition – from the availability of water and sanitation, over finding a place to keep ones belongings, to washing and drying clothes simple things become a challenge due to limited bathrooms and drinking water. It is here, in a confined environment where hygiene is deteriorating that those children live, play, watch television and have to mingle with hundreds of mostly adult men – a condition full of likely hazards for a child.

The detention of children in an immigration detention center is not only reality in Indonesia. In a number of countries children have been going through the same experience. The International Detention Coalition (IDC), a network of non-profit institutions, which focuses its work on the protection for refugees’ and asylum seekers’ rights in immigration detention centers, has since conducted various activities to press governments to stop putting children into immigration detention, as those children in detention are very vulnerable affecting their development, physical or psychological health. IDC expresses concern in particular for the many children that are not accompanied by any of their parents or relatives leaving them vulnerable to sexual abuses and experiencing a lack of proper health care as well as educational services.

The 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Art 22(1) states “States Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure that a child who is seeking refugee status or who is considered a refugee in accordance with applicable international or domestic law and procedures shall, whether unaccompanied or accompanied by his or her parents or by any other person, receive appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance in the enjoyment of applicable rights set forth in the present Convention and in other international human rights or humanitarian instruments to which the said States are Parties”. As Indonesia is party to this convention, releasing children from immigration detention centers to friendlier appropriate places is a first step to ensuring their rights are upheld. It is an unquestionable obligation: Stop the detention of children right now!!

Silvester Gultom

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