[Warning: the content of this post about severe mental illness will disturb readers. For those detrimentally affected by this topic, please refrain from reading. Your ongoing support is deeply appreciated.]
She is 12 years old or younger.
She has been held on Nauru for almost 5 years.
And she desperately wants to die.
Crying and screaming most of the time, she blames the Australian government for her state of mind and says that she is trapped in no land and that her inner voice tells her ‘dying is better than living, you’ll be free‘.
And yet, the need for this child to be moved to Australia for treatment had to go to a federal court hearing.
Justice Bernard Murphy granted the injunction sought by lawyers representing the girl’s family, despite the Australian Border Force’s assistant commissioner of detention and offshore operations, Kingsley Woodford-Smith, refuting the need for her transfer. Woodford Smith gave evidence that:
- there were several free healthcare options available to refugees held on Nauru,
- the girl was being seen daily by a psychologist and could be adequately treated as an outpatient in the Nauruan community, and
- “too much additional attention may escalate [the girl’s] behaviour”.
However, Justice Murphy heeded the assessment by psychologist Professor Louise Newman who stressed that “suicidal acts in young children are rare and extremely serious events which require specialist psychiatric assessment and treatment” and granted the injunction just prior to Christmas. Justice Murphy concluded in his decision that the cost to the Australian government of moving the girl and having her treated in Australia, or the impact upon its policy of keeping refugees who arrived in Australia by boat offshore, was outweighed by the need to protect a vulnerable child. The Guardian reports that the young girl is now receiving care in an Australian hospital.
There can be little doubt that a child who has spent more than 1/3 of her life in the uncertainty of an ‘offshore processing facility’ has been detrimentally impacted by her and her family’s detention.
Clinical assessments reported by the Australian Human Rights Commission found that 34% of children who have been in detention in Australia and on Christmas Island suffer mental health issues that would require them to seek hospital-based mental health outpatient services. Less than 2% of children in the Australian population have mental health disorders at this level. Studies done with children in a Darwin detention centre, most of whom had spent time on Nauru, showed that:
“Almost all of the children aged eight years and over who were assessed for risk of post-traumatic stress disorder were found to be in the ‘clinical’ range. In an assessment of personal hopefulness, almost all children and adolescents assessed received the highest possible scores for hopelessness and despair.”
And this young girl’s mental health issues were extremely severe, horrifically evident. Escalating. And close to fatal.
The fact that the assistant commissioner of detention and offshore operations demonstrated a total lack of understanding of the factors influencing a child to suffer as deeply and profoundly as this suicidal child is another damning indictment on Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers. Children whose life is screaming and crying in torment, continually expressing a wish to die and attempting to do so are not doing these things because of the amount of attention that they receive.
Mandatory detention is cruel, punishing and does not save innocent lives but impairs them forever.
Offshore processing is cruel, punishing and does not save innocent lives but impairs them forever.
Both of these policies must end. Now.
Please encourage everyone you know to urge those with the power to change Australia’s shameful inhumanity to do so IMMEDIATELY.
AUSTRALIANS can urge their political representatives to REPRESENT their values …
ANYONE can urge the Australian government to UPHOLD BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS …