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July 28, 2011


by refugeeactioncoalitionsydney


As revealed on the ABC’s Lateline, Thursday night, documents obtained by refugee activists in the Refugee Rights Action Network in Perth reveal a shocking level of self-harm inside Christmas Island. They also cast doubt on the integrity of Serco’s management of the detention centre, with question marks over the accuracy of its reporting and the culture encouraged among the guards.

“The fact that the instructions to guards that ‘Hoffman’s are to be worn by all officers at all times’ –referring to Hoffman knives used to cut down attempted hangings– is a startling indication of the emergency situation inside the detention centre,” said Victoria Martin-Iverson, a spokesperson for the Refugee Rights Action Network, in Perth.

They also raise questions about whether Serco, the private company responsible for managing the detention is accurately reporting the degree of self-harm and attempted to suicide to avoid “abatements” ie fines associated with mismanagement of the detention centre.

The documents summarising incidents between 9th and 20th June, records 48 self harm incidents – 12 instances of “actual self harm,” 32 of “threatened self harm” and four of “self harm attempted serious.”

Yet individual records among the documents show there were 14 instances of self-harm on three days alone. On at least one occasion, an attempted hanging is recorded as “threatened self harm”, and none of the recorded attempted hangings appear as “self harm attempted serious”.

“This is evidence enough that Serco may be less than honest with its statistics, and reason enough to hold an inquiry into its management of the detention centre, ” said Victoria Martin-Iverson.

“In June Serco guards, were told ‘…be very careful what you say around DIAC as loose lips sink ships…remember your contract confidentiality…’ Such instructions put a question mark over Serco management’s attitude to openness and disclosure of information.

“There are also serious questions about the level of training and corporate concern for their duty of care to the asylum seekers. One asylum seeker seems to have been left in the ‘visits’ area now being used as a suicide watch area despite having a suspected broken arm.

Another document refers to clients creating a self-harm culture using self-harm as bargaining tool. Encouraging this idea among guards can only result in them being dismissive or indifferent to psychiatrically damaged and vulnerable people.

“I have been told by a Christmas Island guard that an asylum seeker banging their head is not considered a serious incident unless they are bleeding or unconscious. Only in a detention centre would such an attitude be tolerated,” she said.

“The government’s policies of long term detention are primarily responsible for the toxic environment inside the detention centres, and it should not be allowed to hide behind its commercial arrangements with Serco. But Serco is doing the government’s bidding,” said Ian Rinrtoul, from the Refugee Action Coalition.

The Ombudsman’s inquiry must include an investigation of the practices, and the toxic culture fostered by Serco inside the detention centres,” said Rintoul.

Suicide Prevention Australia has also written to the Ombudsman asking that the terms of inquiry to be widened to explicitly include suicide and suicide prevention.

For media comment, contact Victoria Martin-Iverson 0410589064 (in Perth, 2 hours behind eastern states), Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713

Also available for comment:

Professor Louise Newman, director of Monash University Centre for Developmental Psychiatry and Psychology, who has seen the leaked Serco documents.

Dr Michael Dudley, Chairperson Suicide Prevention Australia

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