Wed, May 25, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Little girl scarred by time in custody

AP , SYDNEY

Malaysian national Virginia Leong and her three-year-old daughter, Naomi, play at Parramatta Park in Sydney yesterday.

PHOTO: AP

A three-year-old girl released after spending her entire life locked up in an Australian immigration detention center is suffering mental health problems, a psychiatrist who examined her said yesterday.

Malaysian national Virginia Leong and her daughter, Naomi, were released from Sydney's Villawood detention center on Monday after a meeting between their lawyer and immigration department officials, department spokeswoman Sarah Crichton said.

"She's had considerable emotional distress and certainly has developed mental problems," psychiatrist Louise Newman said.

Naomi was born in Villawood on May 5, 2002. The pair were freed after the government granted them temporary visas. Naomi is believed to currently have no citizenship in any country.

Leong, walking out of the detention center on Monday night, appeared delighted to be free and stunned by the crowd of media waiting outside for her release.

The mother and daughter yesterday reveled in their new freedom, playing together in a park in western Sydney.

"It's a dream come true," Leong said. "It's very hard in there. I can't explain it to you unless you're in there."

The Labor Party yesterday said that the government only granted the pair visas after pressure from Malaysian news reports.

"It does look suspiciously like the Malaysian media in this particular instance has embarrassed the government into doing the right thing and getting kids out of detention," Labor leader Kim Beazley said. "Kids don't belong in detention, full stop."

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