Harrowing eyewitness accounts from the president of the Australian Human Rights Commission and a team of medical experts say there is a mental health crisis on Christmas Island, confirming multiple suicide attempts and self-harm incidents.
Fairfax Media has obtained a document that describes injuries sustained by at least 11 women on July 7 who used various methods to harm themselves including attempted asphyxiation and poisoning after being told by immigration officials that they would not be settled in Australia.
The document describes how one woman put a bag over her head three times, drank half a bottle of detergent and used a broken mirror to cut herself.
Professor Gillian Triggs, who arrived on the island last week as part of the commission’s national inquiry into children in immigration, said there were 13 mothers on suicide watch and their conditions were deteriorating rapidly.
”Our team were well aware with these allegations that were confirmed by other detainees,” she said. ”This incident on July 7 has been smothered by a blanket.
”Much depends on how you define self harm and attempted suicide. The government has redefined acts that many of us would describe as attempted suicide to self harm and that is less than honest in terms of the public’s right to understand what these conditions are doing to people on Christmas Island for longer than a year.”
A professor of paediatrics and child health at the University of Sydney, who also visited the island with Dr Triggs, said the women on suicide watch were exhibiting extreme signs of depression.
”I spoke personally to many of the mothers who had self harmed and all of them had young infants,” Professor Elizabeth Elliott, AM, said. ”Many said that they felt life was not worth living.” Professor Elliott said the women’s self harm ranged from using a sharp implement to cut themselves to trying to use a rope around their neck.
A lawyer working for Maurice Blackburn, Katie Robertson, who independently visited the detention centre last week, described ”serious and alarming” injuries sustained by the women.
”These women require urgent and intensive psychiatric care that is not, and cannot, be provided on Christmas Island,” Maurice Blackburn spokesman Jacob Varghese said. ”At the time Maurice Blackburn lawyer Katie Robertson saw them, all of the women had been under constant surveillance by detention centre guards to prevent them from committing suicide.”
A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said: ”It is longstanding government practice not to confirm or comment on reports of individual acts of self harm.”