26 September 2011

Children self-harming in Australian immigration detention

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The Australian Medical Association today brought to light cases of immigration detainees being hospitalised for self-harm, including a number of children.

Speaking to the joint select committee into the immigration detention system, AMA spokesperson Peter Morris highlighted the negative mental and physical health outcomes of mandatory detention and likened the policy to child abuse.

Mr Morris gave evidence of a recent case of a child detainee being admitted to hospital in Darwin.

"We are aware of a nine-year-old child who was recently admitted for trying to commit suicide," Dr Morris told the inquiry.

Dr Morris explained that up to a third of the 795 children in Australian immigration detention suffer from depression and that this number is vastly at odds with "what you see in the general public". 282 of the children in detention are unaccompanied by adults.

"Detention of asylum-seeker children and their families is a form of child abuse...Mandatory detention is medically harmful, violates human rights, has no known beneficial effects and is a waste of money," Dr Morris said.

"The emergency department has also reported large numbers of adults with mental health problems manifesting in self-harm," he added.

Sara Watson of the Royal Darwin Hospital confirmed the reports of self-harming immigration detainees and told the inquiry that there were 33 discharges from the hospital related to children in the last year, some of which were cases of self-harm.

The policy of mandatory detention has been in place since 1992 and requires all people arriving in the country without a valid Australian visa to be detained while their applications for asylum are assessed.

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