Law students visit Woomera detainees

Friday, 31 August 2001

Four Adelaide University Law students have conducted face-to-face interviews with asylum seekers at the Woomera Detention Centre as part of their exploration of human rights issues.

The students - Eve Thomson, Hannah Clee, Catherine Hartley and Tirana Hassan - are participating in the Law School's Clinical Legal Education program under the supervision of senior lecturer and solicitor Ms Margaret Castles. The group visited Woomera with a number of legal practitioners who are offering their services voluntarily to detainees.

Ms Castles said the placement was an ideal way to expose students to the themes of the course.

"These themes include the evaluation and understanding of the operation of law in society, justice access in society, the role of lawyers, and issues of professionalism and ethics," she said. "Working in such a politically sensitive area ensures that we discuss these issues in a rational and objective way, evaluating the different points and working out how the law can and should be used to deal with these complex issues. The issues can be addressed by the whole class, not only those who are doing the refugee placement."

About 1300 detainees, including women and children, are housed in transportable huts at the Centre. The students described conditions as "grim". In notes written after their visit, they encapsulated their impressions of the Centre - "We had been warned but nothing could prepare us for the isolation, imprisonment and degradation of the detainees"(Eve Thomson); "It is not even akin to a jail, convicted criminals enjoy far better conditions than these asylum seekers. Words cannot quite capture the harsh reality that is Woomera" (Catherine Hartley); "The relief on the faces of the people we spoke to, that there are those who care about the way they are confined, said volumes" (Hannah Clee).

Professor Malcolm Gillies, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Performing Arts, Law, Architecture, Commerce and Economics, said the University was concerned to train students for the real world and for the needs of today.

"The current refugee crisis calls for graduates in areas such as law, politics, sociology and anthropology who are skilled in the theory and practice which needs to inform our handling of asylum seekers," he said. "The work in clinical legal education at Adelaide University is an excellent example of how students gain direct experience in dealing with the hard issues such as Australia's management of detainees in our community."

On Tuesday 4 September, the Australian Refugee Association will hold a forum on refugee and asylum seeker issues at the Adelaide Congress Hall, 277 Pirie Street, Adelaide (9am-1pm).


Contact Details

Ms Margaret Castles
Senior Lecturer
Law School
University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5722

Media Team
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 0814

Mr David Ellis
Deputy Director, Media and Corporate Relations
External Relations
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5414
Mobile: +61 (0)421 612 762