The big day out Print E-mail
Written by Herald Sun   

25 may 05
Herald Sun

FOR Virginia Leong, watching three-year-old daughter Naomi spend her first day of freedom frolicking in a Sydney park was "a dream come true".

Naomi, whose entire life has been spent in immigration detention, and her 31-year-old Malaysian mother, were released on Monday night from Sydney's Villawood detention centre on bridging visas.

But psychiatrists have warned the little girl could be scarred for life.

Prime Minister John Howard defended his Government's decision to release the Leongs, batting away criticism from the Opposition that the move was sparked by international embarrassment.

Naomi, born in Villawood on May 5, 2002, and her mum are staying with Russian-born Kristina Nievens in her two-bedroom flat in Parramatta, in Sydney's west.

Ms Leong and Ms Nievens, 32, formed a lasting friendship at Villawood -- for years, they shared a flat in "detention centre hell".

Now the two best friends plan to enjoy their freedom with their children. Ms Nievens was released last year and reunited with son Andrew, who had been staying with his father. She has now opened her home, and her arms, to the Leongs.

Naomi got her first glimpse of the "real world" on Monday and had her first McDonald's meal for lunch yesterday.

"It's a dream come true," Ms Leong said.

But she was still reeling from the shock and emotion of her release, and trying to leave behind the experience of Villawood.

"It's very hard in there. I can't explain it unless you're in there," she said, adding that she was most looking forward to introducing Naomi to her step-brother Griffith Yan, 7.

"I will try to get to my son as soon as I can, try to have a relationship with him," she said.

Ms Leong said she hadn't seen Griffith, a child from her previous marriage, since she was detained 4 1/2 years ago.

Ms Leong said she wasn't sure how damaged her daughter would be from detention.

"She wasn't very happy for a while, she wasn't eating, didn't want to hang out with no one and would just lie there in the room watching TV by herself."

Dr Louise Newman, a psychiatrist who has conducted research into the mental health effects of long-term detention and assessed Naomi in Villawood, said the little girl would need long-term psychiatric care.

"The sad and tragic thing of this case, I think, is this child has already suffered," Dr Newman said.

The Leongs' plight became public when Dr Michael Dudley -- a senior lecturer in psychiatry at the University of NSW and a psychiatrist at Sydney Children's Hospital -- revealed Naomi had been banging her head against a wall and was often mute and unresponsive.

Dr Newman said both mother and child would need long-term support.

The Prime Minister was challenged by Opposition Leader Kim Beazley, who asked if the Government released children from detention only when shamed and embarrassed by headlines and overseas media.

"Will your Government now act with compassion and adopt Labor's policy so that children can live outside high-security razor-wire detention centres?" Mr Beazley asked.

Senator Vanstone's admission follows weeks of pressure over the wrongful detention of Ms Rau, and the deportation to the Philippines of Australian citizen Vivian Alvarez Solon.

Several Liberal backbenchers have mounted a rebellion against the Government's mandatory immigration detention policies, planning to introduce their own legislation to water down the laws.

But Senator Vanstone defended her department, saying it was often difficult to correctly identify someone suspected of having a mental illness.

She said she had made several changes in light of the cases and was considering bringing in experts to fix problems.

"I recognise that it may be appropriate to involve external expertise," Senator Vanstone told a Senate estimates hearing.

Senator Vanstone said while 201 cases marked "released not unlawful" had been referred to former Australian Federal Police chief Mick Palmer for investigation, not every one would turn out to be a case of wrongful detention.

"Every single case will be looked at separately, every one of them, because the department is determined to recognise what problems it may have and to change," she said.

"And I am not going to ... engage in that work and then have further problems arise later, it must start with a clean slate.

"But even more importantly than that, if there are any cases in that number that have a problem, then (they) have to be dealt with as a right for the person involved.

"We've done the search, we gone back as far as these records are held and we're referring just over 200 cases."

Senator Vanstone said she had asked her department to look at using biometrics to identify people, and had set up a special national identification unit in the Canberra head office to ensure complex cases were dealt with quickly and consistently.

The unit will help state and territory case officers check identities, while immigration detention review managers will be in place by the end of May in each state and territory where people are detained.

From May 28, a psychiatrist will visit Baxter detention centre every fortnight and psychiatric nurses will be on call 24 hours a day from next week.

The changes are not enough to placate moderate Liberal backbenchers, who want children and their parents released from immigration detention immediately, and all detainees released after a year.

Victorian MP Petro Georgiou has drawn up his own legislation. Up to four government MPs are believed to support his move.

Prime Minister John Howard has ruled out a conscience vote on the issue, angering former Liberal candidate and human rights advocate Greg Barns, who was disendorsed for publicly opposing the Government's treatment of asylum seekers.

"Mr Howard allowed a conscience vote on right-to-die legislation, IVF and abortion - there is no difference between those matters of conscience and the rights of human beings in detention when they have committed no crime," Mr Barns said.


Jarvis Walker     Arlec

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Featured Articles

The 'Forgotten People'

by Anna Malbon from the Progress Press October 22, 1996

WHEN nine-year-old "Tom" was asked to draw a picture of himself with his mother be drew her trying to strangle him.

Tom entered the world of adults too early. If he was ever immune to the complications and pain of life that adults try to shelter from children, he says he can't remember.

Bulletin Board

I had to struggle extra hard

Her doctors did not bother to enquire about my father and I.

They only listened to her stories ”

“ I grew up thinking - Nobody wanted to help. Nobody wanted to know.”

Hi, I had a mentally ill mother. She passed away last year. I literally grew up hanging around mental hospitals because my Mom's condition was a cycle that always ends in a mental hospital. When I was younger, there was a long period when I cried my eyes out every time I was separated from my mentally ill mother because she had to stay in a mental hospital. After I grew older, my Mom's mental illness became impossible for me to bear.

Literally, my Mom's mental illness ruined my life. I think. I had to struggle extra hard for everything because of my big handicap at home. There was no support at all from anyone other than my father. Nobody else wanted to know about it. My mother's own cousin even said to my father not to bring my Mom to their place. I grew up thinking - Nobody wanted to help. Nobody wanted to know. My mother's own sister has been complaining since 2000 and her last complain was on 5 July 2014. This particular aunt keeps complaining about the same thing. That she had to take my Mom for her weekly injections and complained that my father and I was not around to do it. Then, she goes on to say that she saw my Mom beat me up with a cane. When she said that, I asked my Aunt, you saw my Mom beat me up with a cane? She said yes and than, she walked away.

I feel very sore with this aunt. Number one, the period she was complaining about was when I was still schooling and my father's and my mental health had deteriorated so badly that we had to leave the state for our own sanity. Before joining my father, I had to live alone with my Mom and my baby sister for almost a year. My aunt who lived a few minutes drive away did nothing when my Mom beat me up every day for months until my father managed to cut the red tape to remove me. My body was full of bruises and I was terrified to go home after school. Nobody helped. Not the neighbours who can hear all my mom's shouting at me, nor my aunt, nor my grandparents, nor my school's teachers. Someone should had intervened for a 12+ little girl. No adult helped. My father was trying his best to get me away to stay with him. Nobody helped him.

On XXXXXXXXXXXX, my Mom's sister let slip she saw my Mom beat me with a cane. And yet she did nothing! My aunt even had the cheek to say that my Mom beat me up because I said I wanted to go live with my father. The way my aunt said it was like the beatings were wholly my fault. What is wrong with the picture? You have a 12+ girl being beaten up daily, you are an aunt who knows something is going on and did nothing. Yet for years later you complain about having to take your own blood sister for her injections. And, I do not think she did it for longer than my own experiences. Probably only a few times because my father and I had to travel frequently to see to my mother. Due to the cyclic nature of her illness.

I have been going with my father when he took my mother for her weekly injections as a little girl, knee high, ever since I can remember. My own aunt is so calculative. There was a nurse that visits my Mom to give her her injections. But, the problem is my Mom will not let the nurse into her house that is why the intervention is needed. I have lost count on the number of times I had to go with my Mom for her injections as a little girl.

Her doctors did not bother to enquire about my father and I. They only listened to her stories and full stop. I think my Mom's doctors are the most heartless people I have ever met in my life. Until today, I do not like anyone who officially practices psychology because those doctors etc... contributed to my life being ruined. That is how I feel. I have been scolded by my Mom's medical team and they even dumped my Mom on me after I just turn 18 and there was no other adult around. And, they knew the situation. I was terrified because my Mom was a very violent. My Mom has pitched me, beaten me up, she has biten me with her teeth, she has smashed my head against the table and threatened to beat me with a piece of hard wood. I experienced all these as a little girl at the tender age of 12+ I had to learn karate to protect myself from her violent ways. And, when my Mom was home, I would lock my room's door and place a chair against it. I was that terrified of her.

All our belongings can go missing because my Mom is good at that sort of thing. You never know what is what with my Mom. It is like having a criminal live under the same roof as you.

My aunt kept repeating to me that on my mother's death anniversary I will have go visit her cemetery. I live in a different state from where my mother's cemetery is located. And, my aunt knows that very well. However she repeated her question to me until I said yes. I hate being forced to do something against my will because I have been forced to do things against my will my whole life.

My life is in ruins because of my mother's mental illness and people like my aunt is perpetuating the troubles for me after my mother's death. When I was 12+, my mother's mother said to me that it is my father's job to take care of my mother. In other words, my father's job and mine. And, they never lifted a finger to help. Just helping a little, my aunt has been complaining about the same thing for more than a decade. Unbelievable. Shameful.

Even though my father and I lived in a different state from my mother, we had to travel up and down every weekend because that is demanded of my mother. Sometimes, we had to travel after school and upon our arrival, she won't let us in and we had to travel all the way back. And, my father will not let me sleep at home as it is a school day, I had to go to school. My education was very important to my father. My mother could not be bothered if I succeeded or not.

I have seen more than any of my Mom's relatives have seen with regards her mental illness but people whom I just met behave like I have no idea about my Mom like they are the authority on her behaviour and her illness. Goodness gracious.

Despite this huge handicap in my life I persevered with my studies. My Mom did not give me any moral or emotional support at all. In fact her mental illness cycle will peak just or during my important exams. In other words, I had to deal with my exams and on top of them a mentally ill mother. By my final year in university, I could not take the pressure of exams and a mentally ill mother's break downs anymore.

When I was in my teenage years and early adult years, I was suicidal. I had to call Befrienders a lot. Thank God for Befrienders.

Before XXXXXXXXXXdate, I do not wish my experience to be experienced by anyone else because it is torture. However, after feeling how hard hearted my aunt is. A so called holy person, a church goer, rich person who has successful kids and grand kids. And, she can talk like it is my fault that my Mom beat me up and she (my aunt) had to take her (her own sister) for her injections when I was a kid. I really wish that my aunt must reincarnate as my father (a few lifes) so that she can eat her own words. If my aunt reincarnates and is put in my father's shoes, she would really deserve it. Hope she learns compassion through it all.

Why can't the world give children of the mentally ill a break? I am so fed up with all this troubles that stem from my mother's sister's attitude towards my father and I. After all shel lives a great lives. Rich live. What is wrong with these people? I really cannot stand them. This is my story.

After I wrote the above - I am more myself now, and I totally forgive my aunt and everybody who did nothing to help my father and I. And, everybody else who were heartless towards my father and I. However, I still think that by living a few life times as my father (my aunt) - would do her some good. But, knowing her character, she might become a psychopath and pose a threat to humanity. My father is a very, very kind soul. My aunt is a hard hearted, prejudiced, narrow minded, one tracked mind person.

How I cope? Trying my best to keep out of their way, and hang out with positive people. There are plenty of great people out there. Nnaami is included :)


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