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Kids in detention camps – crazy!

By John Hargreaves - 20 April 2015 89

john hargreaves hostel

In 1952, when I was three, my parents emigrated from England to Australia and we went to a migrant hostel in Bonegilla in Victoria; later we went to other hostels at Bradfield Park and East Hills in Sydney.

My memories are varied of this time but I’ll share with you some of them.

I remember living in a three roomed Nissen hut. We ate our meals in the canteen and showered and went to the toilet in the ablution blocks. Our “house” had no heating or cooking facilities, so my mum got a kerosene heater and sometimes she cooked some potatoes and peas in a three segment saucepan on the top of the heater.

There was a two teacher school on the second hostel and the teachers were Catholic nuns, Mother Angela and Mother Borgia. They were formidable and very strict. There was also a chapel on the hostel and as a six-year-old, I served Mass as an altar boy for the 7am Mass. In 1953, during our stay at Bradfield Park, my brother was born.

We moved to East Hills hostel in about 1955 and I went to a school in Liverpool by school bus and played on the banks of the Georges River. Whilst we were on this hostel, in 1957 my first sister was born.

We moved out of the hostel in late 1957 and spent Christmas in a beachside suburb in Melbourne’s south. Imagine the mind blowing difference for a young eight-year-old whose only memories are of a migrant camp.

I had lived in a camp for nearly six years, with barely any comforts at all. But at least TV came to Australia and my did gave me 6d to go to the theatre and watch the Mickey Mouse show once a week.

I didn’t know that there was another world out there until we went to Victoria. I still have crystal clear memories of the poverty and barrenness of those hostels. A visit to Bonegilla recently brought back horrible memories.

In all of this though, whilst the camps had barbed wire fences round them, the fences were to keep the bad guys out, not us poms, wogs, and other ethnics, in. The gates were open during the day, so people could go to work or school, to go shopping or just go down to the river and play. We were not regarded as criminals, just “ethnics” and ten-pound poms.

Now fast forward to the detention camps on Christmas Island and Nauru. Think about the detention camps in Western Australia, South Australia, the Northern Territory and NSW. Villawood is not the same as East Hills or Bradfield Park. The detention camps are far worse.

We have treated the asylum seekers and their children like criminals. Whatever, people may think of the adults it is crystal clear to me that the worse victims of all this are the kids.

I believe that the adults must have been so desperate to risk the lives of their wives and kids that they boarded leaky boats and headed for Australia, no matter the role of people smugglers etc. I know many readers will disagree with me on this but I hope they all agree about the kids.

There has been hardly a peep about how many terrorists have been found among the asylum seekers so why can’t they be treated like the migrants similar to my family?

Why can’t the kids go out of the gates to play? Why can’t the kids get a decent education among ordinary Aussie kids? Why can’t their mums and dads go to work and come home again like ordinary families? Why must they be treated like murderers, paedophiles and seriously violent criminals?

How many of you have seen the photos of the kids in the detention camps and have not felt a sorrow for them? How many of you have seen the appalling conditions they live in and haven’t felt some revulsion? How many of you have seen the tent city on Nauru and haven’t thought “I’m glad that’s not me or my kids”?

The current government should back down on all of this and show compassion to the world. The current opposition should back that move. They are as bad as each other and preside in shame.

Both sides of politics are complicit in the theft of the kids’ childhoods, the encouragement for radicalisation in young men and the sense of despair and hopelessness in those incarcerated in those camps and I don’t care where the camps are.

When I tell my story, and I leave a lot out, people say to me ”how come you were in a migrant camp for that long when the usual length of stay was in months not years?” The reasons don’t matter, but I can say that it was not because some heartless bureaucrat decided to sentence my family for an introduction to Australia (the land of our dreams) like the asylum seekers, but economic refugees we were. It was not because of discriminatory government policy.

I was free. Asylum kids are not. Their sad eyes come to me in my sleep.

(Photo: John Hargreaves as a child at a migrant hostel in Sydney.)

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89 Responses to
Kids in detention camps – crazy!
Paul Costigan 5:41 pm 21 Apr 15

Thanks John,

Your story and words are apt in addressing a situation that all politicians should take responsibility for. Having been around migrant centres for most of my early years, I cannot understand why people fear these latest refugees. There was a time in our recent past when it looked as though the country had matured a little because of the way the country accepted the migrations after WW II and then the Vietnam War.

This is a complex situation and requires some compassionate approaches by all governments. I wonder how many lives could have been saved if former governments had worked with our neighbours to directly assist those who had fled their own homelands for whatever reason.

Again, thanks for your thoughts on this subject.

gazket 4:56 pm 21 Apr 15

If their parents kept their I.D they would either be in the community or sent back home and not in a Immigration center.

They are called Immigration centers. Calling Australian Immigration centers detention camps is actually insulting what earlier people went through that actually were in detention camps.

watto23 4:38 pm 21 Apr 15

dungfungus said :

If these people are true refugees they should be grateful that they have made it to the safety and security of an Australian controlled refugee facility. This is assuming they were fleeing from life threatening situations. How could “the appalling conditions” they are living in now be worse than what they were leaving? [/quote>

The issue with these figures are that while most Australians and myself included feel that the boat arrivals needed to be stopped, we purely look at figures regarding Australia, but ignore the fact of how many refugees die overseas in refugee camps. Sure none are coming in boats and drowning at see, but they still die elsewhere. So claiming credit for a policy that basically still does nothing for the overall issue is a bit ripe if you ask me.

I’m not one to think the issue with refugees globally is as simple as that though. But the current and previous government are very good at fixing little bits they gain votes, but then have nothing for the bigger picture. However governments are masters of fear mongering to gain votes and that is what refugee policy is mostly about.

I’m still trying to work out what offshore detention centres that cost us millions to run actually did? We could have run them in the country in areas of low unemployment.

But it doesn’t surprise me, politics is very short term thinking in this country and all about paying back political donors and winning the next election than beneficial policies. So to give credit to a government for a policy designed to shift the focal point away from Australia doesn’t really deserve credit.

dungfungus 9:29 am 21 Apr 15

wildturkeycanoe said :

John Hargreaves said :

chewy14 said :

And why can’t we equate apples to oranges?

It’s unfair that they are completely different things.

Children behind barbed wire living in tents and huts? The difference for me was I could go out of the gate. Why can’t hey? They are innocent children. It is theft of their childhood.

Please let the children who don’t speak the local language out on their own, unsupervised into a culture that generally has a dislike of foreign freeloaders, with no money to spend and no friends for support. See how long it is before they form their own gangs for protection and turn to crime to prevent boredom.
Obviously the parents cannot be released into the community with them, or the whole process of determining if they are legal asylum seekers is lost, as they wiggle their way into the woodwork of underground networks that harbor foreign criminals.
Detention whilst assessing their identity and legitimacy is better than persecution and death. If it isn’t, then send them back to where they came from. Australia’s welfare system is already burdened by too many people, simply letting everyone who arrives unannounced to sign up is not going to help our country flourish in decades to come. There’s humanitarian aid but you have to start in your own backyard first or you end up with a country full of racists, constantly burdened with jumping through Centerlink’s hoops for essentials whilst illegal entrants get given everything on a silver platter.

John, do you ever contemplate what might happen if Australia is unable to fund social welfare anymore?
Would you forgo your taxpayer funded pension in favour of the kids in detention?
I doubt it, given that you could have resigned from politics in protest when you had the chance but you didn’t.
Not many people are supporting your stance on this one.

wildturkeycanoe 9:11 am 21 Apr 15

John Hargreaves said :

chewy14 said :

And why can’t we equate apples to oranges?

It’s unfair that they are completely different things.

Children behind barbed wire living in tents and huts? The difference for me was I could go out of the gate. Why can’t hey? They are innocent children. It is theft of their childhood.

Please let the children who don’t speak the local language out on their own, unsupervised into a culture that generally has a dislike of foreign freeloaders, with no money to spend and no friends for support. See how long it is before they form their own gangs for protection and turn to crime to prevent boredom.
Obviously the parents cannot be released into the community with them, or the whole process of determining if they are legal asylum seekers is lost, as they wiggle their way into the woodwork of underground networks that harbor foreign criminals.
Detention whilst assessing their identity and legitimacy is better than persecution and death. If it isn’t, then send them back to where they came from. Australia’s welfare system is already burdened by too many people, simply letting everyone who arrives unannounced to sign up is not going to help our country flourish in decades to come. There’s humanitarian aid but you have to start in your own backyard first or you end up with a country full of racists, constantly burdened with jumping through Centerlink’s hoops for essentials whilst illegal entrants get given everything on a silver platter.

chewy14 9:51 pm 20 Apr 15

John Hargreaves said :

chewy14 said :

And why can’t we equate apples to oranges?

It’s unfair that they are completely different things.

Children behind barbed wire living in tents and huts? The difference for me was I could go out of the gate. Why can’t hey? They are innocent children. It is theft of their childhood.

Asylum seeders are not migrants and our immigration needs and systems are completely different to what they were 60 years ago.

By allowing asylum seekers and their children into the community, we are effectively allowing them residence and encouraging others to make the dangerous sea journey, risking their lives and their children’s. The idea that they can be sent back if their claims are not true is unrealistic and also then places pressure on our refugee intake.

Surely we want to be accepting for resettlement those refugees who are most in danger of persecution, those who are most likely to be killed. By allowing boat arrivals preferential treatment, we are allowing those who have money to self select into our resettlement program, limiting the amount we can help those most in need. I thought Labor people were all about equity and equality regardless of your financial status?

Pork Hunt 7:55 pm 20 Apr 15

What was the reason your family stayed in the hostel? Could people not simply rent/buy a house in the community?

dungfungus 6:28 pm 20 Apr 15

John Hargreaves said :

dungfungus said :

A couple of comments without the “leaky boats”emotion that usually clouds the real issues with asylum seeker detention.
John, why didn’t you write this while the Rudd/Gillard Labor government was in power? Sure, you say that both sides of politics are as bad as each other but only the coalition should “back down and show compassion to the world”. I understand that when the coalition took office there were about 2000 children in detention – there are now about 100. Why don’t you give credit where credit is due?
If these people are true refugees they should be grateful that they have made it to the safety and security of an Australian controlled refugee facility. This is assuming they were fleeing from life threatening situations. How could “the appalling conditions” they are living in now be worse than what they were leaving? Strangely, we never hear their advocates passing on “thank you for saving us” do we, and they never want to return, so is it any wonder we find it hard to believe they are anything but illegal economic migrants.
As to the question as to why you were only in a migrant camp for a few months is, as you well know, because you were invited to come here with your family at a time when we needed migrants and you arrived with valid documentation.
Australia does not need any more migrants now.

I did speak up about this when Labor was in govt. I made speeches when I gave out citizenship to new citizens. I made public speeches in Garema Place and on the lawns outside Parliament House. All when I was a Shadow minister and then as a full minister. My views have not changed in relation to either persuasion. They are both criminals.

My thinking is that we could be more welcoming to those in distress and if their claims are found to be unsubstantiated, they can be sent back. I don’t see much evidence that those who did come weren’t bona fide.

This govt has indeed stopped some boats. By being draconian, hard line and oppressive means. Witness the most recent for some Vietnamese.

I still think some compassion is warranted and I see no, repeat no, reason to imprison children nor to send them to a third world country because that’s the way to stop the boats. There’s gotta be a better way than imprisonment and diversion.

I accept that you feel strongly about what you believe is the way children in detention are treated but Australia does take good care of the asylum seekers as promulgated here: http://www.immi.gov.au/About/Pages/media/fact-sheets/fact-sheet-82.aspx
I don’t see how we can be more welcoming than that.
It’s a bit emotive to say they are “imprisoned” also. The numbers of illegal asylum seekers that were coming in under the previous government was tantamount to an invasion and while you call the way the current government has dealt with that as draconian, hard line and oppressive you do not offer any alternatives.
I believe stopping the boats is the only way to control the problem.
Australia is a very compassionate country but there are limits especially now that we have massive welfare problems to contend with.

justin heywood 5:38 pm 20 Apr 15

People who advocate releasing illegal boat arrivals into the community can never answer one simple question;

Q. What is to be done with the flotilla of leaky/sinking boats that will (as experience has shown) be launched immediately after Australia relaxes its current stance on asylum seekers? Answer? I expect none.

Nobody likes to see the kids in detention centres. But there will, and has been, many entire families drowned if asylum seekers are ‘released into the community” immediately after arrival.

John Hargreaves 5:28 pm 20 Apr 15

chewy14 said :

And why can’t we equate apples to oranges?

It’s unfair that they are completely different things.

Children behind barbed wire living in tents and huts? The difference for me was I could go out of the gate. Why can’t hey? They are innocent children. It is theft of their childhood.

John Hargreaves 5:26 pm 20 Apr 15

dungfungus said :

A couple of comments without the “leaky boats”emotion that usually clouds the real issues with asylum seeker detention.
John, why didn’t you write this while the Rudd/Gillard Labor government was in power? Sure, you say that both sides of politics are as bad as each other but only the coalition should “back down and show compassion to the world”. I understand that when the coalition took office there were about 2000 children in detention – there are now about 100. Why don’t you give credit where credit is due?
If these people are true refugees they should be grateful that they have made it to the safety and security of an Australian controlled refugee facility. This is assuming they were fleeing from life threatening situations. How could “the appalling conditions” they are living in now be worse than what they were leaving? Strangely, we never hear their advocates passing on “thank you for saving us” do we, and they never want to return, so is it any wonder we find it hard to believe they are anything but illegal economic migrants.
As to the question as to why you were only in a migrant camp for a few months is, as you well know, because you were invited to come here with your family at a time when we needed migrants and you arrived with valid documentation.
Australia does not need any more migrants now.

I did speak up about this when Labor was in govt. I made speeches when I gave out citizenship to new citizens. I made public speeches in Garema Place and on the lawns outside Parliament House. All when I was a Shadow minister and then as a full minister. My views have not changed in relation to either persuasion. They are both criminals.

My thinking is that we could be more welcoming to those in distress and if their claims are found to be unsubstantiated, they can be sent back. I don’t see much evidence that those who did come weren’t bona fide.

This govt has indeed stopped some boats. By being draconian, hard line and oppressive means. Witness the most recent for some Vietnamese.

I still think some compassion is warranted and I see no, repeat no, reason to imprison children nor to send them to a third world country because that’s the way to stop the boats. There’s gotta be a better way than imprisonment and diversion.

Rollersk8r 4:42 pm 20 Apr 15

For a fair while there I thought you were going to say childhood detention isn’t too bad!

And I mostly agree with the other responses. You of all people should understand the role of government in implementing effective process.

So all illegal arrivals are straight into full employment, housed and have their kids in school. Gee, I can’t see any problems at all when their request for asylum is rejected 2 or 3 years down the track.

chewy14 4:14 pm 20 Apr 15

And why can’t we equate apples to oranges?

It’s unfair that they are completely different things.

vintage123 1:51 pm 20 Apr 15

What is the solution John? The current process is a safe and secure method of taking people who arrived through illegal channels (and I think it is important to state that to arrive on the shores of Australia without obtaining prior approval is illegal), until such time as the relevant checks are undertaken to determine if they are in fact actual asylum seekers and not economic migrants. If these checks come back substantiating their claims they are actually introduced to our society with a great deal of support. Are you suggesting we remove this process? How would they then be supported. Where would they go to live and how would they earn an income? Are you suggesting we just wave to them as they arrive to the shores at broom and start walking down the road to no where starving or dehydrating to death.

dungfungus 12:29 pm 20 Apr 15

A couple of comments without the “leaky boats”emotion that usually clouds the real issues with asylum seeker detention.
John, why didn’t you write this while the Rudd/Gillard Labor government was in power? Sure, you say that both sides of politics are as bad as each other but only the coalition should “back down and show compassion to the world”. I understand that when the coalition took office there were about 2000 children in detention – there are now about 100. Why don’t you give credit where credit is due?
If these people are true refugees they should be grateful that they have made it to the safety and security of an Australian controlled refugee facility. This is assuming they were fleeing from life threatening situations. How could “the appalling conditions” they are living in now be worse than what they were leaving? Strangely, we never hear their advocates passing on “thank you for saving us” do we, and they never want to return, so is it any wonder we find it hard to believe they are anything but illegal economic migrants.
As to the question as to why you were only in a migrant camp for a few months is, as you well know, because you were invited to come here with your family at a time when we needed migrants and you arrived with valid documentation.
Australia does not need any more migrants now.

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