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AHRC calls for probe

Mary Rauto
Monday, May 30, 2011

THREE suicides in three months at a detention centre in Australia has prompted a call for a survey into the high level of self harm.

The Australian Human Rights Commission in its report said the deaths at Villawood Detention Centre included that of 36-year-old Josefa Rauluni, who jumped off the roof of a building hours before he was to be deported to Fiji last September, an Iraqi man two months later and a 29-year-old British man on December 8.

Fijians are among the six largest groups detained at Villawood.

Commission president Catherine Branson said the uncertainty caused by indefinite detention and delays in refugee processing and security assessments triggered serious mental health issues among detainees.

"What we saw at Villawood was the result of the system of mandatory and indefinite detention, where people can see no end in sight because there is no set time limit on the period a person can be held in detention," she said in a statement. "Sixty per cent of those in detention when we visited Villawood had been detained for longer than six months, and 45 per cent had been detained for more than a year.

"We saw people scarred from self-harming. We heard others talk of sleepless nights, days of depression and frequent thoughts of suicide."

Villawood has a cross section of people from more than 40 different countries.

The report said as of February 23, the largest groups were 98 people with citizenship from the People's Republic of China, 50 from Sri Lanka, 32 from Iraq, 28 from Afghanistan, 24 from Iran, 13 from Fiji and 11 from Vietnam. Thirty-six detainees claimed to be stateless or whose citizenship was undetermined.

Ms Branson said the commission was concerned about the detrimental impacts of prolonged and indefinite detention on people's mental health and wellbeing.

"These concerns have escalated over the past 12 months as thousands of people are being detained for long periods," she said

"There have been six deaths in immigration detention facilities over the last nine months, including the apparent suicides of three men in three months at the Villawood Detention Centre.

"Staff at the Villawood detention facilities should be acknowledged for their efforts to provide appropriate services and conditions, but the mental health impact of prolonged detention cannot be overcome by these efforts alone."


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