Australia: Detention alternatives affect families

11 March 2011|Catherine Marshall

One of many of Australia's immigration detention centers.

It’s a typical Australian summer scene: a little boy named Mustafa plays cricket on the driveway, his mother peels mandarins in the shade, his baby sister coos close by. Mustafa’s ball rolls under the fence, and he tries to squeeze through the small space to retrieve it. His mother cries out in alarm, for he is not allowed to venture outside alone, even if she were to give him the go-ahead.

For this is not a suburban backyard, but Villawood Immigration Residential Housing in Sydney. Mustafa and his family – two brothers, a sister, and his Hazara parents – have come here from their homeland, Afghanistan, via Christmas Island and Perth. Each week they are visited by staff and volunteers from JRS.

‘The presence of JRS pastoral workers and volunteers in the detention centres is very simply a ministry of presence,’ says Fr Aloysius Mowe SJ, Director of JRS.

‘Asylum seekers often feel bewildered by the complex bureaucratic and legal processes that confront them, and it seems that the trajectories of their lives are being decided in far off places by faceless others. Our presence is meant to give them hope, to tell them that there are people who are interested in them and believe that they have a future, that they are not just so much flotsam and jetsam in a sea of despair.’

For Mustafa, and his family, these visits seem to be working. Although the children are allowed to attend school and go swimming, they are mostly confined to their small villa while they wait for the Department of Immigration to process their asylum claim. Their faces light up when we arrive, and when we leave they wave until we are out of sight. ‘Please come back and visit us next week,’ says Mustafa’s mother. She is smiling broadly, but her words carry with them a hint of desperation.


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