Children in an Australian detention centre are suffering insomnia, suicidal thoughts and other forms of psychological distress, with one 7-year-old forced to recommence wearing nappies, according to testimony recorded by a visiting psychiatrist.
During visit last month to South Australia’s low-security Inverbrackie detention centre, Dr Jon Jureidini interviewed several families and recorded distressing accounts of the impact indefinite detention was having on their children.
One family said their 7-year-old son had been forced to return to nappies and had been seeing hallucinations, while his 11-year-old brother had been prescribed sleeping tablets to prevent him waking in the night and screaming.
Other families reported similar stories, with children between the ages of 4 and 18 years experiencing various forms of psychological distress.
A second family reported that their 4-year-old had also been forced back into nappies, with yet more children suffering bed-wetting, nightmares and bad moods.
“Can you bear it if your children stay in this situation for a day? You can see the scars my child has got from Christmas Island. My pride and dignity were broken in front of my child – he was innocent and I brought him here. We are not a suitable chess item to be played with,” the asylum seeker said.
Dr Jureidini will today join other doctors, refugee advocates, and representatives from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection in addressing a public hearing staged by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) as part of its inquiry into children in immigration detention.
Dr Jureidini told New Matilda that even though Inverbrackie is regarded as one of the best places an asylum seeker can be placed while waiting for processing, his visit to the centre in May showed children held there were suffering.
“Children were feeling jailed, demeaned, always watched,” Dr Jureidini said.
“I think what’s most traumatic for children is watching the disintegration of family that happens in immigration detention, as families become less competent to provide parenting and children increasingly take on parental roles in families.”
Dr Caroline de Costa, a Director of the Clinical School at James Cook University School of Medicine who will also address the AHRC’s hearing today, told New Matilda she would use the opportunity to discuss the problems faced by pregnant women in detention.
In December 2013, Costa visited Alternative Places Of Detention (APODs) in Darwin, where women held in detention on Christmas Island are taken while waiting to give birth.
“It was very deficient. A large number of women had been transferred from Christmas Island without any arrangements being made with the Royal Darwin Hospital for them to give birth there, or to have antenatal care,” she said.
Costa said she knew of two asylum seekers who had lost children in Darwin, one to a stillbirth, the other a few days after giving birth. While conditions in the Darwin centres have reportedly improved since her visit, Costa said the lack of transparency in regards to the treatment of asylum seekers meant it was difficult to know how they were being treated in other locations.
“I’ve spoken to colleagues that I know in other capital cities – all of them from public health departments. They don’t want to be named, they don’t want to speak out themselves, but they are concerned about the same thing happening that I saw in Darwin in December.
“That is, women arriving from Christmas Island in particular, but also Nauru, who are due to give birth very soon. Sometimes they don’t see these women until they’re in labour,” she said.
“[The doctors] have minimal information about [the patients’]previous medical histories and their pregnancies. They need to look after them and need interpreters, but often they don’t have them.”
The AHRC’s inquiry is the second it has run examining the practice of keeping children in immigration detention, which President Gillian Triggs has described as a breach of international law. Its first report, released in 2004, found children were being kept in detention for as long as five years and recommended capping the amount of time they could be kept in the future.
“Let no child who arrives in Australia ever suffer under this system again,” Human Rights Comissioner Sev Ozdowski wrote at the time.
Triggs said that in April this year, 929 children remained in Australia’s detention centres, with a further 177 on Nauru. Submissions made to the AHRC’s current inquiry called for Scott Morrison to be removed as the legal guardian of children in immigration detention, a move which would fulfil a recommendation made in the original 2004 report to strip the Minister for Immigration of the role.
Dr Jureidini told New Matilda that improvements to on-shore detention centres in the past decade had not gone far enough.
“While the conditions in detention that I saw in Inverbrackie are much better than they were 10 years ago in Baxter and Woomera, children are still being dangerously harmed by being in detention,” he said
“A couple of kids I saw on the visit with the Human Rights Commission were every bit as worrying as the kids I saw a decade ago.”
The federal government announced in May that it intends to close the Inverbrackie Detention Centre by the end of the year.
The AHRC’s inquiry comes as refugee groups are ramping up their opposition to the detention of children, with religious groups in particular staging a series of protest events and sit-ins.
At a recent protest, priests and a rabbi from the Love Makes A Way campaign left children’s toys in the office of Mt Barker MP Jamie Briggs, whose electorate includes the Inverbrackie complex.
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