Thursday, March 17, 2005

Archival Rescue 19 ~ Aus Detention

Outcry over school 'raids' to detain children
March 16, 2005 - 7:07PM Sydney Morning Herald

Argument raged today over immigration officers removing children from schools and locking them in detention centres.

Parents, opposition politicians and medical experts say the practice is cruel and must stop.

They condemned the Immigration Department after the NSW Teachers Federation uncovered what they said were instances in the past fortnight of immigration officials detaining school children because their parents had overstayed their visas.

The federation maintains that children as young as six were taken to Villawood detention centre, in some instances after being removed from their school yards by immigration officials.

It is investigating immigration raids on schools in Stanmore, Kogarah, Chester Hill, and a Seventh-Day Adventist school.

In one instance, two girls aged 11 and six were taken from a school in Sydney's inner west and immigration officers refused to allow the principal to contact the children's carer, the federation's senior vice-president Angelo Gavrielatos said today.

The Immigration Department has confirmed the raids but said today it only occasionally entered schools.

"The number of cases where officers need to enter school premises to detain children is very small," a spokesman said.

"We work closely with the school in question to ensure as far as possible the cases are handled sensitively ... we attempt to engage the assistance of the school principal to resolve any issues relating to pupils."

However, Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said children were only taken to Villawood after advice from detained parents.

One incident had occurred where a principal was notified and the parents had asked that the child be removed from the classroom.

"If you wish to create the impression that there are immigration officers running around snatching children from schools, good luck to you," Senator Vanstone said.

She said newspaper reports were exaggerated, adding: "My advice is that over the last couple of weeks there have been two instances in NSW schools.

"The supposition put to me that children were taken from a schoolyard in front of other children is not correct."

Mr Gavrielatos called on the Federal Government to end what he maintained was a "cruel" policy.

"We are shocked and appalled at the events of the last week or two which have seen officials from the Department of Immigration enter our schools and remove children from schools," he told reporters in Sydney.

"This is an absolute outrage, it has shocked us all. We call on the government to end the cruelty ... and observe the basic rights that these children have."

NSW Parents and Citizens Association president Sharryn Brownlee said parents were horrified about the reported schoolyard raids, and the students had been traumatised.

"The impact on these young children's lives will remain with them forever," she said.

The National Association of Practising Psychiatrists said the raids would have a huge impact on the children detained, their friends and school staff.

"It's very traumatic for everybody and it could well have long-lasting effects on some of them," president Dr Jean Lennane said today.

"There's nowhere for them to look for help or security - if you can't rely on a school as a place of safety, where can you look?"

Labor's immigration spokesman Laurie Ferguson said the Immigration Department's actions were "absolutely over the top and unnecessary."

NSW Education Minister Carmel Tebbutt would not comment on the raids today but a spokesman previously said the Immigration Department's actions were inappropriate.

A child removed from Stanmore Public School, in Sydney's inner-west, said immigration officers turned up at the school and took him into custody.

Immigration officers interrupted a class to take away Ian and his six-year-old sister, Janie, the ABC reported.

The children's mother had been stopped at the airport on an alleged visa violation.

"[The principal] showed me two people and they said that I had to go to this detention centre, Villawood," Ian told ABC radio today.

The immigration officers had forbidden him from saying goodbye to his friends, he said.

"They didn't let me do that," he said. "I stayed at that school for seven years now and, yeah, I miss my friends."

Ian said he had been frightened at being taken away.

A school parent, Kathy Thurston, told ABC other children at the school had been traumatised by the events.



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