General News Politics Therapies — 31 March 2017

AMNESTY International says uncertainty over the US-Australia refugee deal is causing “frightening” psychological damage to detainees in limbo, while a doctor says one in five asylum seekers are on antidepressants.

Refugee Processing Centre on Nauru. Picture: Amnesty International

Refugee Processing Centre on Nauru. Picture: Amnesty International

Details of the agreement — labelled by President Donald Trump as a “dumb deal” — were still very unclear and it was causing stress for asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru, Amnesty International told a Senate inquiry today.

The impact of Mr Trump’s new travel ban was a serious concern, particularly for Iranian families and those that have been separated.

“Is this a deal that’s simply going to separate families forever?” Amnesty refugee co-ordinator Graham Thom told senators on Wednesday.

“It may be very confusing for us and an interesting academic exercise … but it’s very real for the people sitting on those islands.

“The damage that it’s causing, psychologically, is frightening.”

Mr Thom claimed a teenage boy on Nauru attempted suicide earlier this year following Mr Trump’s initial executive order banning travellers from seven countries.

Amnesty is calling for clarity on the deal to send refugees to the US, which it fears could leave hundreds without a resettlement option, but also wants resolved quickly.

“These people just can’t stay on the island.”

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Ambassador for People Smuggling and Human

Trafficking Andrew Goledzinowski told the inquiry the Turmp Administration could potentially take more refugees under the deal than the 1250 previously stated by White House press secretary Sean Spicer.

Mr Goledzinowski said there was no firm number, saying it was “as likely to be 2000 as zero” but he believed the US would take a number of refugees about halfway between that.

Amnesty’s senior research director Anna Neistat, who wrote a report claiming the offshore detention system amounted to torture, told the inquiry she was shocked when she visited Nauru last year.

She told senators on Wednesday conditions were akin to conflict areas she had previously visited — including Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen and Chechnya — and the level of suffering and despair was among the worst she had ever seen.

Dr Neistat told of three children who attempted suicide recently, including a 13-year-old girl who did so while still recovering from a previous attempt.

The inquiry later heard from International Health and Medical Services’ Dr Jo Holdaway who said about 21 per cent of asylum seekers on Nauru and 16 per cent on Manus Island were on antidepressants.

The inquiry also heard the case of a woman who has a broken tailbone and requires surgery but has not been flown to Australia for the operation.

Another woman who claims to have a growing lump in her breast is still awaiting diagnosis, despite having another lump removed in 2016.

The committee’s investigation into allegations of abuse, self-harm and neglect of asylum seekers will also hear from the government’s OH & S body Comcare, representatives from asylum seeker medical care provider International Health and Medical Services, and immigration and foreign affairs officials.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.

This piece was published on ‘’ March 15, 2017.


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