Thursday, December 14, 2006

Close Baxter immediately before someone dies - Senator

December 14, 2006

"They seemed to have been left in Baxter and forgotten"

The Immigration Department (DIMA) says it is reviewing access to the roof of South Australia's Baxter detention centre after a series of self-harm incidents. Extra staff were sent to the desert detention complex and plans enacted to stop detainees jumping from roofs or making other suicide attempts.

On Monday a group of Baxter Immigration Detention centre detainees staged a hunger strike to bring attention to the severe mental health situation of four of the detainees - including two African men who jumped off Baxter's roof.

One detainee said "many detainees are still unhappy with mental health conditions" after meeting Baxter's centre manager and an Ombudsman official yesterday...
"News of attempted hangings, self inflicted slashings and detainees jumping from roofs is tragic and shocking..."

A young Nigerian man tried to hang himself on Tuesday morning as the Ombudsman's office was due to arrive at the centre. The man was taken to the Royal Adelaide Hospital. Thirty detainees were protesting about the Department's handling of mental health issues, after four detainees harmed themselves in the past few days.

Baxter detention centre has been in the "grip of a crisis" with six suicide attempts by long-term detainees in the past week. Marcus, a detainee at the centre said the events have been distressing. "It's been an ongoing downward slide," he said. "People are getting worse and worse.

"We want an independent psychological assessment of all detainees and the effects of immigration detention upon these people. Once this is done we would like the results to be forwarded to Canberra for assessment as to whether or not the mental health interests of detainees are served," he said.

About 30 detainees at the Baxter Detention Centre in South Australia began a hunger strike; 15 others converged on the prison's front gates in a peaceful protest to coincide with Commonwealth Ombudsman's officers.

DIMA said will review access to the roof of the maximun security detention centre after a series of self-harm incidents. The Ombudsman's office said it will assess individual complaints. The Immigration Department's Scott Kelleher said there are plans to minimise future attempts at self-harm.

"If someone is committed to climb a roof they're probably going to find a way to do so," he said. "But certainly that'll be part of the issues that we're looking at, and if there can be a way around restricting access then we'll probably look at that."

"If they are going to protest, we'd like that to be done in a peaceful and reasonable fashion," said Mr Kelleher. "And certainly we'd encourage them to discuss their issues with the centre management and with DIMA executives and hopefully resolve any issues they might have before they need to take further or more drastic action."

But the Minister has the power to prevent these tragedies and she should act now, says Greens Senator Kerry Nettle, who called for the immediate closure of Baxter in the wake of multiple attempted suicides.

"The Minister must bring on the inevitable and close Baxter now," Senator Nettle said. "Only 38 detainees remain in Baxter which has a capacity of over 500. These men could be rehoused in alternative detention in a matter of days."

"The mental health record of the Baxter Immigration Detention Facility is appalling. "These desert prisons are especially cruel because they isolate detainees from friends and family. The Government's mandatory detention policy breeds despair and in turn leads to these tragic attempted suicides," said Senator Nettle.

She said the Greens continue to insist for an end to mandatory detention of asylum seekers and the closure of desert prisons such as Baxter.

Two detainees remain in hospital after the spate of suicide attempts in the past week, the Immigration Department says, while another three have been placed in temporary alternative accommodation - motels or flats under guard - "for safety or good order reasons". Another 33 detainees remain in the centre. DIMA said the centre's executive met detainees to hear their grievances on Tuesday night.

Carmel Kavanagh, a member of the Ballarat Refugee Support Network and a visitor to Baxter, said a Tanzanian detainee, 37, who had spent 27 months in detention, climbed on the roof and tried to hang himself from an antenna. A 28-year-old Kenyan man, detained for two years, jumped from the roof on Friday with his fall broken by a guard. A 31-year-old Kenyan man, detained for two years, refused to climb down from a tree on Saturday and suffered sun stroke, she said.

On Monday night a 33-year-old Indian man who has been in detention for three years tried to hang himself. Last week a Pakistani man attempted to hang himself and was taken to hospital, where he tried to hang himself again when a guard fell asleep.

"They seemed to have been left in Baxter and forgotten," Ms Kavanagh said.

The Advertiser - Baxter hunger strike over
The Age - Spate of suicide attempts at Baxter
ABC - Baxter self-harm attempts prompt security review
ABC - Immigration official to visit hunger striking Baxter detainees
Perth Indymedia - Baxter Detention Centre shame - Multiple suicide attempts in a culture of neglect
The Australian - Detainee suicide attempts 'shocking'
Perth Indymedia - Six Hangings at Baxter

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