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Category: Interviews »

Subject: Immigration »

Reception for immigrant and refugee young people

Adele Rice.

Adele Rice, head teacher of Brisbane's Milperra High School, an intensive English language preparation centre, tells of the terrible impacts their experiences have had on many of her students who have come from countries in conflict.



Date Added:

01 May 2006


Adele Rice interviewed by Andrew Jakubowicz for MMA. Artwork: Students of Milperra High School, Brisbane


mov (Quicktime);

File size:

9.3 MB


4 min 01 s


Adele Rice

Head teacher, Milperra High School, Brisbane

Artwork: by students at Milperra High School

Brisbane - reception for immigrant and refugee young people

I’m Adele Rice. I’m the principal of the Milperra School…

It is an intensive English language preparation centre, like a reception centre for receiving and welcoming immigrant and refugee young people…

There’d always been the idea that newcomers to this country needed English classes, so the idea that language is part of settlement has always been a strength of the Australian immigration program…

With the Vietnamese students that I had, even though that country was at war, there weren’t so many children who had directly experienced that guerrilla kind of war. It was more their parents who had suffered the education camps. But for the Bosnian kids, for the first time, it was a period when I couldn’t look at television and so on. I’d see everybody looked like the kids at school…

I was quite happy to be a Queenslander and happy to be someone who lived in Brisbane because we had a lord mayor at the time, so at local government level, the temporary protection visa holders were welcomed in Brisbane, and at no time did the education department say we weren’t able to educate them, although we did that without any Commonwealth funding for the first few years. And it was another just remarkable time because they didn’t have parents at all, and I suppose our school community and the Brisbane community closed around them…

And we had suddenly turned that into a crime, that to seek asylum was not a legal thing to do. I also think it’s ironic that so long after the event, everyone of those people that I know on a temporary protection visa has been granted permanency. So it seemed then that that suffering was in vain…

Telling you what torture is and what trauma is. And if it’s systematic destruction of self and systematic destruction of hope, then I felt that’s what we were doing, or that’s what was being done in our name…

They were told continuously - “you’re not wanted here”. They were continuously woken in the night, summonsed as if they were going to leave and then told that they weren’t leaving. The suffering of the Iraqi and the Afghani people, the mental torture I think was horrific…

At my school probably the refugee population is two-thirds of the total school population, and within that I suppose two-thirds again would be from Africa. And many are from the Sudan but there’s increasing numbers from Liberia. We’ve had bigger intakes of Somalians, Ethiopians before, but that’s starting to emerge again, and significant numbers now from Rwanda and Burundi and so on. And they’re amongst the sickest and the smallest children that I’ve ever seen. But the thing that really, really, I suppose.. it’s quite heartbreaking, is the age. They’re sixteen, fifteen and over, many of them, but their educational knowledge and experience is so minimal – it wouldn’t even be the same as a five or six year old child here. And yet they’re very gifted in lots of things, particularly oral language…

Because in the Sudan people weren’t educated beyond the age of thirteen, and girls often weren’t educated at all. And places they came from had no sealed road or schools – they’ve never seen a library. So you can’t come from that background into our twenty-first century, with the technology and the so-called smart state, without some incredibly in-depth catch-up sort of period.