Immigration Detention is No Place for Children

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

A Child in a Detention Center

Leaving behind conflicts and violence in home countries does not always mean freedom from threat and danger. Displacement is a hard reality and often leads to other traumatic experiences. Women and children are the most vulnerable among the displaced.

Aminah had never imagined that she would experience again tragedy, on the line of life and death. Together with her husband and her seven years old daughter, she had left Iran to search for peace and safety in Australia. After two months staying in Indonesia, she boarded a boat with many other asylum seekers. Unfortunately, the boat had an accident. Many people drowned in the sea. Men, women and children were floating lifeless.

My daughter was traumatized by the scenes she witnessed. She saw swollen bodies floating, with pale and broken faces. She often wakes up in the middle of the night, crying and started refusing to eat,” said Aminah.

Currently, Aminah is one of mothers living in an over-crowded Immigration Detention Center. Rescued from the sea after the accident, she thought she would be placed in the community to heal the trauma. Apparently, she was mistaken.

When we were taken to this city, I thought we would stay in a house, but they took us here. This place is not clean. We live in a small cell with 6 other people, two families, so there is not enough space to sleep. This is not a good place and it will make my daughter’s condition worse,” Aminah complained.

Refugees and Asylum Seekers living in a Detention Center often lose their rights. Detention Center is an Immigration Prison. They are held in cells, losing their freedom, their privacy, and sense of security, and worse they even lose their hope. States accommodating Refugees should be encouraged to explore and implement alternatives to detention as soon as possible.

Detention Centers are an especially unfriendly place for children. Children need a comfortable place to grow and to learn values of peace, respect, freedom, and creativity. Children need more excitement and a spacious place to move because their world is a world of play and learning, their world should never be a jail.

I have taken my daughter to the doctor. I have asked the doctor to give her vitamin because she rarely eats, but the doctor gave her nothing. The doctor told me to ask my daughter to eat. I can not force her to eat,” Aminah says with a quiet voice.

Witnessing even the smallest joy in a child’s eye is the happiest experience of a parent. Being unable to free your child from sadness even for the shortest moment is the most distressing experience to any parent. Detaining displaced families is a practice that can lead to extreme mental harm and deprives children of many of their rights.

Yesterday was the 7th birthday of my daughter. Last year when we were in Iran, we celebrated her birthday together with her friends by providing a birthday cake. Now, she wants a birthday cake and toys, but I cannot provide them. Do you have a child? Can you imagine what I feel as a mother when I cannot give a birthday gift to my daughter?” Aminah said with tears in her eyes.

For Refugees and Asylum Seekers who are locked in detention cells, the presence of a companion who is willing to listen and pay attention to their experiences is very meaningful. JRS is present among them to be a friend, ready to listen and to serve them. JRS presence among those who are locked in a Detention Center is a practice of solidarity and often their only contact to the outside world.

When JRS brought a birthday cake for her 7 years old daughter and celebrated her birthday in a very simple way, happiness returned to her child’s face. “Thank you for all you have done. This is very meaningful to me. I will never forget this.”

Children who experience trauma due to displacement need special attention to help to overcome traumatic experiences and be able to heal. Releasing children from Detention Centers is an important first step that has to be done as soon as possible. Detaining innocent children with traumatic experiences should never happen again, not to Aminah’s child or any other child in the world. Indonesia should lead in this effort to stop immigration detention of children, now. ***

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