Self-harm, suicide attempts and asylum seekers drugged up on anti-depressants have become the norm in Australian immigration detention centres, detainees say.
Afghan Hazara refugee Mohammed Baig saw heartbreaking scenes during his immigration detention at the Curtin detention centre in the Kimberley, 2000km north of Perth.
“The hanging, killing, cutting themself (sic), it was normal,” he told ABC television’s Four Corners on Monday night.
Another detainee, Jaffa, said: “The stress of being in prison … is just killing me day by day.”
Abdul Hamidi – who was at Curtin, Woomera, Port Hedland and Baxter – told the program he fell into a similar spiral of despair.
“In Curtin I did cut myself again, my arms, my stomach, my chest. I tried to talk to them, like, `I’m not well, I need help’,” he said.
His lawyer Ben Phi said Mr Hamidi was a broken man.
“His doctors say that … to the best of their knowledge he’s never going to work again,” he said.
“It’s my sincere hope that with specialist medical attention he will get back to a point where he can start to, I guess, interact at least a bit better with society.”
Australian Greens immigration spokeswoman Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, who has visited a number of centres, said a 17-year-old girl in detention had given a telling insight into her mindset.
“I was sitting there, her room is covered in drawings of ropes hanging people, of graves,” the senator said.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen told the program the government was improving the system and making better use of community detention.
“I accept that in some cases it can be better to move people into the community before their claim is processed,” Mr Bowen said.
“And in fact in the last year we’ve released more people out of detention than have gone into it and that’s the first time that’s happened in a long time.”
But psychiatrist Dr Suresh Sundaram, who recently visited Curtin to report for the Human Rights Commission, says mandatory detention is ruining lives.
“Those mental health problems persist for quite a protracted period of time following resettlement in the general community,” she said.
“We saw lots of people with significant post-traumatic stress disorder.”
She said anti-depressants were being used for sleeplessness.
“It is concerning that people are being given medication not for its approved indication,” she said.
Immigration department spokesman Sandi Logan said the department aimed to ensure the “mental health needs” were addressed.
“We need to ensure their mental and physical health is as good as possible so when the time comes either to be released on a visa or to be returned home they are in as best health as possible,” Mr Logan said.
An alliance of 13 Australian health organisations has called on the federal government to immediately launch an independent investigation into the standards of mental health care in Australia’s immigration detention centres.
The organisations, including the Australian Medical Association, Sane Australia and Mental Health Council of Australia, say it is “clear that conditions inside detention centres are unacceptable”.
“The mental health of immigration detainees can’t wait until the political debate over the appropriateness of immigration detention has been resolved,” the alliance said in a statement on Monday.