The Federal Government’s immigration policies have intensified, with children detained at Villawood’s residential housing section now subject to bag searches before and after school.
Bag searches began almost two weeks ago, affecting 12 school-age children in the housing complex. Searches are conducted by escort staff in the reception building of the compound both before and after school.
While the measure seeks to ensure banned materials are not brought inside, there have been no reports of contraband material found during any searches.
Spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition, Ian Rintoul, said detainees were being stripped of dignity and respect.
“These searches and arbitrary rule changes seem to be part of a deliberate program to intimidate both parents and children and to create a climate of coercive management control,” he said.
UK-based services firm Serco operates seven adult detention centres across Australia, including Villawood. Last week Serco disciplined a guard in Darwin’s Wickham Point detention centre for referring to individuals by boat ID numbers instead of their names.
Serco’s contract states that Serco “must search all persons, personal belongings or vehicles” but may not forcibly screen or search visitors.
Daily bag searches are not the only odd procedure faced by detainees. Gifts may be sent to refugees inside detention centres, provided they are unwrapped. Immigration officials will then inspect the gift and wrap it, but only if the sender has provided wrapping paper.
In 2009, a report by the UK Children’s Services Commissioner into the detention of children in Serco-run centres revealed a failure of basic safeugards for children. Severely ill or at-risk children were forced to remain under custody and treatment was withheld.
The Department of Immigration and Border Protection advocates humane treatment during immigration detention, particularly the commitment that “conditions of detention will ensure the inherent dignity of the human person”.
Mr Rintoul told City Hub the evidence of psychological damage caused by detention is well-established.
“The regime being imposed on children and families at Villawood shows one reason why,” he said.
According to the Refugee Action Coalition, some parents and children have threatened to boycott school due to the search regime.
Neither Serco nor Immigration Minister Scott Morrison responded to requests for comment.