Nuns taking asylum seeker children to the zoo has been deemed "too risky".

For four years, a group of Catholic nuns have been taking asylum seeker children on outings from a Melbourne detention centre.

Around six months ago the program came under review and has now been deemed “too risky” to continue by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

Sister Brigid Arthur, who runs the The Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project (BASP), told 774 ABC Melbourne’s Jon Faine on Wednesday, that the rules were becoming “more draconian … under the guise of security.”

She also described the conditions in the Broadmeadow’s Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA) as “worse than a prison”.

asylum seekers
Two asylum seekers on an outing in Abbotsford. Image: Supplied.

“[We’d] go to the Collingwood Children’s Farm, go to the zoo occasionally, out to adventure playgrounds,” she told Faine.

“Anything that actually can entertain the kids and give them some stimulation.”

Sister Brigid shared one anecdote of a little girl (pictured above and one 17 being held at MITA) who fell in love with a goat on an excursion.

“That was a magical day. We’d gone to the Collingwood Children’s Farm and that little girl was very quiet,” she sad.

“Then when we went around to different animals she was a bit excited, but when we got to the goat, she just loved that goat.

“She just fell in love with that goat.”

According to the Department however, the excursions were “not deemed appropriate and there was limited supervision of the activities”.

“The welfare of all detainees, including children, is of paramount importance to the department,” a spokesperson wrote in a statement released to the ABC.

“While this specific program has ceased, Serco will continue to offer excursions and activities in a safe and controlled manner.”


Serco, being the security company that operates out of the MITA facility.

Regional Commander of the Australian Border Force, Don Smith, also spoke on 774 on Wednesday, telling Rafael Epstein that the nuns were not the problem, but rather that “the types of activities and the places they were taking them to, we had no visibility of and no control over.”

He also pointed out that occasionally community volunteers assisted with the activities and that it also included adult asylum seekers.

Sister Brigid told Mamamia that while he was technically correct, there had been no accidents — or incidents — since the program’s inception.

“We didn’t have anybody, not one person, who didn’t turn up after an excursion or an outing,” she said.

“We’re just pushing for children now, because the program has been stopped we can’t even take out kids.

“As far as we would judge nothing inappropriate was ever done and we failed to take everybody back. As far as I’m concerned our supervision was sufficient.”