Self-harm cases at Aussie detention centres

SYDNEY • Self-harm by asylum seekers being held at Australia's offshore detention centres takes place on average once every two days, a report said yesterday, with some prospective refugees swallowing poison, cutting themselves and attempting suicide.

Under Canberra's hard-line immigration policy, asylum seekers who attempt to arrive in Australia by boat are sent to the Pacific islands of Papua New Guinea or Nauru for processing. They are barred from being resettled in Australia even if found to be refugees.

The Fairfax Media report, using Immigration Department logs obtained through freedom of information laws, found there were 188 self-harm incidents involving asylum seekers in Nauru in the 12 months to July last year.

Self-harm incidents at the Manus island camp on Papua New Guinea numbered 55 for the same period.

An Immigration Department spokesman said the number of self- harm incidents at the two offshore camps "have reduced considerably in recent months".

"Where an individual in a regional processing centre threatens self- harm or actually self-harms they are immediately provided with both counselling and medical services," the spokesman added in a statement yesterday.

"The services provided in both Nauru and Papua New Guinea are broadly comparable with health services available within the Australian community."

The incidents reported included asylum seekers stuffing tea bags down their throats or trying to hang themselves with bedsheets or other makeshift nooses, and a woman who "poured boiling water over (her) lower limbs", the report said.

Self-harm cases in the onshore detention network, which include people held for breaking immigration laws and asylum seekers living in the community, stood at 706 over the same 12-month period.

A total of 1,459 asylum seekers were being held on Manus island and Nauru at the end of last year, according to immigration figures.

The data shows 28,919 people are under detention or live in the community within the onshore detention network.

A Senate inquiry into the Nauru facility last year found that conditions were inadequate and unsafe, with allegations of rape and other abuse.

Human rights groups have criticised the policy against asylum seekers arriving by boat and the detention conditions, but the Australian government argues that the harsh measures have helped stop people dying at sea.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 17, 2016, with the headline 'Self-harm cases at Aussie detention centres'. Print Edition | Subscribe