Monday April 4 2005 7:30am
For Immediate Release
"The question whether the Baxter detention centre, and living in Baxter 'indefinitely' makes you mad, is highlighted in more than one way today, both in the Australian courts and on television through the ABC's Four Corners current affairs program tonight," WA Refugee group Project SafeCom's Jack H Smit said this morning.
Today lawyers for two Iranian asylum seekers will argue in a court in Adelaide that they should be removed from detention for reasons of mental illness, and the two un-named asylum seekers will appear in court to testify (news article below), while tonight the ABC will reveal new abuse evidence in the well-known detention case of Cornelia Rau.
"To thousands of people around Australia in the 'refugee movement' it is clear that long-term mandatory detention, as well as the cruel institutional environment playing itself out inside Baxter, causes mental illness, but it seems that the only party denying that this makes people 'mad' is the Department of Immigration (DIMIA) and its Minister Senator Amanda Vanstone, and lawyers acting for the Commonwealth - against asylum seekers.
"And if we mention 'the refugee movement', we're talking about one of the largest and most potent civil movements in Australia, that has long known, witnessed and tried to counter this mental decay wherever it could, knowing how terribly depressed and ill people in detention have become, and we're talking about ordinary citizens as well as lawyers, doctors, nurses, psychiatrists and psychologists, former detention centre staff, Amnesty International Australia, church members, the clergy as well as laypeople.
"Only the fear of loosing opportune support ground - especially after the Cornelia Rau affair - in what remains a politically motivated and ruthlessly inflexible mistreatment of asylum seekers makes DIMIA, Vanstone and the PM John Howard unwilling to be honest about what's taking place as a result of Australia's mandatory detention policy.
"The detainees inside Baxter who came to seek asylum, for that reason, and by all accounts, are nothing less than political prisoners, also in terms of what Amnesty International calls political prisoners. It's about time that Australia as a nation, and John Howard in particular, stops being stubborn and stops playing political games with the lives and well-being of asylum seekers.
"The blindfolded man in this injustice is John Howard, and he needs to take the blindfold off, and he should order the lawyers for the Commonwealth to stop squandering millions of dollars worth of taxpayers money to keep his mad-making policy in place. And if the demands by his backbenchers for change to detention policy are any indication, the Prime Minister would serve Australia well to implement real and not just cosmetic changes at his earliest convenience: at the moment some of the backbenchers fit in better with the policy of the Greens or Democrats or even the ALP."
For more information:
Jack H Smit
Project SafeCom Inc.
[phone number posted]
Baxter drives detainees mad, says psychiatrist
By Penelope Debelle
April 3, 2005
Two suicidal Baxter detainees will be questioned in the Federal Court in Adelaide tomorrow in a case that has put on trial the mental health care provided by the Department of Immigration in detention centres.
Lawyers for the two Iranian detainees, one of whom took part in the November hunger strike on the Baxter roof, allege the Commonwealth failed in its duty of care towards the men, who suffer severe depression. They want them sent from the Port Augusta facility to a psychiatric care unit at Glenside in Adelaide, where mentally ill Sydney woman and former Baxter detainee Cornelia Rau is being treated.
The court was told on Friday by an expert psychiatrist that the Baxter centre was an environment almost designed to produce mental illness. "It is a place that drives people mad," said Adelaide psychiatrist Jon Jureidini, who examined the men by video link early last week.
The Immigration Department, represented by barrister Sashi Marahaj, said differing medical opinions about the men's mental health did not mean the Commonwealth's duty of care had been breached.
However, refugee lawyer Claire O'Connor, who asked for the men, named only as M and S, to be taken to court tomorrow, said their mental health was deteriorating daily and they need urgent treatment.
M had told her he had stockpiled tablets - which Baxter guards had searched for but never found - and would commit suicide if his situation did not change.
When the case first came before the court in February, the court heard the men had not been visited by a psychiatrist since at least November and possibly August the previous year. Since then they had been seen by a psychiatrist who will be called to give evidence this week.
Dr Jureidini, a consultant psychiatrist at Glenside, said psychiatric visits every six weeks were not likely to be sufficient given the cruel environment in which detainees were held. Although guards at Baxter may not behave cruelly, detaining people in this way was cruel, he said.
"I'm not actually sure a psychiatrist can do anything for anyone at Baxter but if they could, it would require a great deal of attention," he told the court. "The whole detention centre environment is one of hopelessness.
The practice of putting potentially suicidal and distressed detainees into isolation and under constant video surveillance in Baxter was damaging, he said.
"I think it is a very misguided approach if you are trying to relieve suffering," he said. "It is quite likely, in fact almost certain, to increase a person's suffering and distress.
The mere existence of observation and management units at Baxter adversely affected detainees' mental health because of the constant threat of being sent there, he said. Clinical confinement and surveillance outside detention was restricted to a maximum of four hours at a time but Baxter detainees were held in the management unit for up to 22 hours at a time.
"There is a reluctance to use (isolation) as a profession because someone who is vulnerable by virtue of having a mental illness is even more vulnerable to the effects of isolation," he said.
· Cornelia Rau was abused by jailers, and immigration detention officials knew about her mental condition, new witnesses claim on ABC television's Four Corners program in an interview to be broadcast tomorrow night.
A former prisoner says Ms Rau was manhandled every day to force her back into her cell.