Monday, November 06, 2006

Suicide warning led to visas for Nauru refugees

Michael Gordon of The Age has kept a close watch on refugee issues and should be applauded for his diligence and commitment to reporting on the Howard government's human rights violations in this area. I am confident that the worst abuses under both the Pacific Solution and the on-shore detention facilities system will be the subject of a Royal Commission in the future. The work of journalists such as Gordon is pivotal in charting the ugly course of events as this obnoxious policy plays out. The truth needs to be told and the key players called to account.

Following is a large slice of his article:

"A WARNING from mental health experts that asylum seekers on Nauru were at extreme risk of committing suicide prompted the decision late last year to give visas to 25 men who had spent four years in offshore detention, documents obtained by The Age show.

The documents indicate that the Government acted only after the psychiatrist treating the men warned that she would not be responsible if any of them resorted to suicide.

A letter from the psychiatrist led Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone to dispatch a team of mental health experts to Nauru, who recommended that all the asylum seekers on the island be taken to Australia "as a matter of urgency".

Senator Vanstone made no mention of this advice when she announced that 25 of the 27 still on Nauru would be granted visas last October. The decision resulted from "the Government's constant review of the failed asylum seekers caseload", she said.

After four years on the tiny, sweltering island, 13 of the 25 were found to have genuine fears of being persecuted if they returned to their homeland, and were afforded refugee status. Of the rest, Senator Vanstone said decisions to grant temporary humanitarian visas were "consistent with the Government's flexible approach to managing complex caseloads".

Despite the recommendation that all 27 be moved to Australia and not placed in detention, two remained on Nauru because they had adverse security assessments from ASIO. One of these men, Mohammad Faisal, was flown to Brisbane in August at the request of the Nauruan Government after health workers said he was suicidal. He remains in a Brisbane hospital.

The Age has seen documents showing that, more than a month before the decision to approve visas for the 25 last October, the psychiatrist employed by the International Organisation for Migration on Nauru warned that they were "highly vulnerable to do self-harm".

The asylum seekers had been suffering mental health problems "for several years" and should be removed "from this kind of environment and atmosphere of consistent hopelessness" at the earliest possible opportunity, she wrote in a letter obtained by The Age under freedom of information legislation.

"IOM Medical cannot be held responsible for any events or circumstances that may arise as a result of the above situation," the psychiatrist warned.

The mental health team's report, also obtained by The Age under FoI, paints a grim picture of the consequences of indefinite detention on Nauru, even where asylum seekers are able to leave the camp during daylight hours."

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