When does silence over asylum seekers become complicity?

Manus Island

There is a case for urgent, humane and long term solutions for refugee processing, highlighting the appalling conditions of refugees and asylum seekers, especially the suffering of children in detention centres, writes Redemptorist Fr Bruce Duncan.

- Catholic Religious Australia (CRA)

Australians have been shocked by revelations about the appalling conditions of refugees and asylum seekers in detention camps, especially about the treatment of women and children. Recent testimonies provide evidence of cover-ups of abusive and degrading treatment of asylum seekers. We treat convicted murderers better than these asylum seekers.

Appearing before the Australian Human Rights Commission inquiry into the detention of children, psychiatrist Peter Young on July 31 said that the Immigration Department was alarmed at his report on the numbers of child detainees suffering from serious mental health issues, and asked him to withdraw the figures. Young was the former director of mental health services for International Health & Medical Services, which had the contract for these services.

Young reported that there had been 128 instances of child detainees self-harming in 15 months, not including those in Nauru. One child had committed acts of self-harm on 16 occasions, but was still kept in detention and was not given specialist care. Children had tried to poison themselves, and banging their heads against walls was a common practice. More than 170 others had threatened to self-harm.

Others, including two doctors working on Christmas Island in 2013, testified to further unacceptable treatment, with people being denied basic health care, having their medication, glasses, and hearing aids taken from them and often not replaced, and being deprived of help for serious complaints. A former employee of the Immigration Department said that the aim of the detention policy was to dehumanise detainees and treat them badly so as to deter others from trying to enter Australia by boat.

There are currently about 659 children in Australian detention centres, down from 1330 a year ago, but with 153 still on Christmas Island. A further 185 are in Nauru. Among the 157 recent Sri Lankan asylum seekers were 37 children.

The president of the Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs, has shown dignified courage in standing up to Immigration Minister Mr Morrison. After a visit to Christmas Island, Triggs reported that most of the child detainees were ill, with many self-harming, and their conditions were worsening. “There were children with big lumps, untreated sores, red eyes. But most of them were coughing, had asthmatic conditions or stomach complaints.” In addition, thirteen women were under constant suicide watch. Mr Morrison rejected her statements as “sensational” and untruthful.

FULL STORY Asylum seekers: when does silence become complicity? (Catholic Religious Australia)

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