House debates

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Constituency Statements

Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project

9:54 am

Photo of Maria VamvakinouMaria Vamvakinou (Calwell, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to express my disappointment at the suspension of the Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project at the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation centre, otherwise known as MITA, located in my electorate in Broadmeadows. News of this was brought to our attention by Sister Brigid Arthur who was interviewed on ABC radio yesterday. We were subsequently contacted by others expressing their surprise, concern and disappointment. The Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project has been in existence for 15 years. For the past four years, a small number of volunteers have been able to take people, including children, out of detention in MITA at various times throughout the year for excursions. Past excursions have included visits to the Collingwood Children's Farm, the zoo and the various parks around our beautiful city. These outings have been very successfully run for four years without incident. They were put on hold, pending review, six months ago without warning or explanation, and to date there has been no conclusion to this review. The program provides an invaluable social and education interaction for the children detained in MITA who, otherwise, are missing out on the normality, the curiosities and the simulations vital to the healthy development of their childhood.

I know from my own personal visits to MITA over the years just how beneficial these sorts of programs are and how vital they are for the young people, as well as the adults, in detention. I myself previously initiated a soccer program which involved weekly soccer matches between our local youth sporting clubs and the unaccompanied minors who were sent to MITA some years ago. This program was a success. It gave my local community an opportunity to meet and interact with those detained in MITA. It also brought some normality and humanity to the young people in detention. It certainly showed me the decency and the humanity of my constituents. Most people in detention do not know if or when they will be released. This uncertainty is very distressing. Programs where they are able to leave the centre or interact with the wider community are, therefore, very important for their wellbeing and welfare. Furthermore, if they are able to engage with the community at large whilst in detention they will be better able to integrate when released.

My office has contacted both MITA in Broadmeadows and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection regarding the suspension of the program. Both have advised that this is a matter for the minister. Therefore, in addition to writing to the minister, I want to ask the minister in this place to explain why the program is being reviewed, after four years without incident. I appeal to him to reinstate it immediately. MITA has been serviced by many volunteers over the years. The Brigidine sisters, in particular, have brought much love and compassion. It is why we are all very baffled as to why this very valuable volunteer program has been put on hold and, in fact, has been put on hold for such a long period of time. The uncertainty is unhelpful to all of us. I call on the minister to act immediately.