Update, July 11: Update: Ian Rintoul has moderated his claims in regards to the suicide attempts of asylum seekers.
On Friday, The Australian reported him as saying: “I probably shouldn’t have said attempted suicide," and “People drinking concoctions of shampoo or detergent generally don’t die — was it a drastic cry for help? Yes, it was, and it remains that way.”
Up to 11 mothers held in immigration detention on Christmas Island have attempted suicide in the past 48 hours after they were told they would not be able to leave the island, a refugee advocacy group has told New Matilda.
Ian Rintoul, from the Refugee Action Coalition, said a spate of suicide attempts had taken place in the family facility after asylum seekers asked to be moved to an environment more appropriate for children.
“They don’t believe they’re getting proper medical attention,” Rintoul said.
“They are saying they can’t care for their children – it’s just extreme distress, and then being told there was no remedy, there was no relief.
“It did not matter what they did they would be kept on Christmas Island in the circumstance they don’t think they can tolerate any longer.”
Rintoul said the series of attempts were not part of a coordinated action and had come after weeks of tension were brought to a head following a meeting between Department of Immigration and Border Protection officials and asylum seekers.
He has taken a series of calls from asylum seekers held in the compound over the past three days.
According to Rintoul, none of the women involved died as a result of their injuries and all still appear to be on Christmas Island. A press release issued by the Refugee Action Coalition linked the incidents to recent tensions on the island.
“Tensions have been building in the family camp over recent weeks as many of the families have spent a year, in limbo, on Christmas Island and more and more children are becoming sick,” the release said.
The women involved are believed to be subject to an ongoing case testing the rights of children born in Immigration detention.
Despite their growing desperation, Immigration officials reportedly met with asylum seekers on Christmas Island yesterday, informing them they could not be transferred off the Island while waiting for the matter to return to court.
According to the release Serco, the organisation charged with running the detention centre, has been forced to place a large number of guards inside the camp to prevent more acts of self-harm.
“The officers try to intimidate us. They are threatening us. But we cannot watch our children suffer and get sick like this. Why must we stay on Christmas Island,” one asylum seeker was quoted as saying.
Rintoul said that in spite of the greatly increased security, women were warning they could not be monitored by Serco or the Department indefinitely.
“The implication is that [the attempts]will be ongoing,” he said.
The claims come as disturbing details have been presented to the Australian Human Rights Commission, as part of its inquiry into the state of children in Australia’s immigration detention centres.
Dr Caroline de Costa, a Director of the Clinical School at James Cook University School of Medicine, told New Matilda that the practice of moving pregnant women from Christmas Island to Darwin to give birth had caused huge logistical problems and led to difficulties providing adequate care.
In December 2013 she visited the Alternative Places of Detention (APOD) centres where women are kept while waiting on the mainland.
“It was very deficient what I saw, at that point in Darwin. 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 anti-natal care,” she said.
“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.”
According to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald, the government recently “secretly” moved up to five newborn babies and their families to Christmas Island.
The Minister for Border Protection and Immigration, Scott Morrison and Serco ignored requests for comment.
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