Supporters of asylum seekers here say that the government’s response to recent suicides in Australian immigration detention centres ignores what is already well-known: that indefinite, long-term detention in crowded facilities results in deaths.
'We’ve had so many reviews and they’ve all pointed to the same thing,' says Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition (RAC), which has been vocal in calling on successive governments to abandon the policy of mandatorily detaining 'unauthorised arrivals'. Under this policy, people are held while identity, health and security checks are carried out. These checks can take considerable time.
Rintoul says that there are thousands of people who have languished in immigration detention for six months or more, and hundreds who have been detained from one year to 18 months. Several have been held for even longer.
'Until you deal with the underlying cause, until you deal with the lack of certainty and the anxiety associated with mandatory detention, nothing is going to change. It’s very obvious.' Refugee advocates and human rights defenders are among those who have long been opposed to what they regard as the harsh, unfair treatment of those who claim asylum in Australia, often fleeing persecution in their homeland.
The Refugee Council of Australia, the national body representing more than 130 organisations, has been calling on the governing Labour party to abolish indefinite, mandatory detention and implement the reforms it announced back in 2008.
The government’s pledges included ending what then minister for immigration Chris Evans called 'dehumanising' long-term detention and removing children from immigration centres. But these have never been put into practice.
'We would say that the system is broken,' says the Council’s Sophie Peer. The latest available figures from the department of immigration and citizenship (DIAC) show that there were 6,758 people in Australian immigration detention on Feb.18, up from less than 500 midway through 2009. More than 95 percent of these are asylum seekers who arrived here by boat, labelled by authorities as 'irregular maritime arrivals'.
One of these 'irregulars' was a 20-year-old Afghani who was found dead at the Curtin Immigration Detention Centre in Australia’s remote north-west late last month. While DIAC has not released details about the young man’s death, refugee advocates have identified him as Mohammed Asif Atay.
According to advocates, he hanged himself on Mar. 28, allegedly in response to delays and a lack of information regarding his application for asylum. The Curtin facility was controversially reopened in June last year for Australia’s spiralling immigration detainee population after it had been closed in 2002 following a spate of protests and self-harm incidents.
Mohammed’s death followed the apparent suicide of another 20-year-old male detainee from Afghanistan, also an 'irregular maritime arrival', on Mar. 16 at the Scherger Immigration Detention Centre in north-eastern Australia.
These cases brought the total number of suicides among the immigration detention population in a six-month period to five. A Fijian national committed suicide at the Villawood facility in Sydney last September and an Iraqi man killed himself there in November. Also at Villawood, a British man detained for breaching his visa conditions committed suicide in December.
DIAC has reacted to these deaths by recently agreeing to establish an independent review of mental health services available to those held in its immigration detention centres. This decision was apparently based on advice the department received last December from its Detention Health Advisory Group (DeHAG), whose work focuses particularly on issues of mental health.
© Inter Press Service (2011) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service
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