Asylum Seeker Self-Harm 'Epidemic' Is Unacceptable, Greens Say

16/01/2016 11:29 AM AEDT | Updated January 16, 2016 12:04
The AGE via Getty Images
(AUSTRALIA & NEW ZEALAND OUT) Asylum seekers on their first day in the compound at Nauru after their long voyages on the Tampa, Aceng and Manoora, 19 September 2001. The AGE Picture by ANGELA WYLIE (Photo by Fairfax Media/Fairfax Media via Getty Images)

The Greens want Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to take urgent action to address a "growing epidemic" of self-harm in Australian immigration detention centres following reports of a self-harming crisis among asylum seekers.

There were 188 incidents of self-harm involving asylum seekers at Nauru in the year to July 2015, and 55 self-harm acts at Papua New Guinea's Manus Island, Fairfax Media reported on Saturday.

The acts of self harm reportedly included detainees swallowing insect repellent, stuffing tea bags down their throats and pouring boiling water over themselves.

Today's report comes after the company contracted to run Australia's detention centre at Nauru told a Senate inquiry in August there were 253 incidents of self-harm reported on the Pacific island between September 2012 and April 2015.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young called on the Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to address the issue of self-harm among detainees as a priority.

“The current situation is unacceptable and, as a strong and compassionate people, we could be doing so much better,” she said.

“The fact that children are so traumatised that they’re resorting to shocking acts of self-harm is appalling.

“There is no excuse for Mr Turnbull to turn a blind eye to these conditions, he must act. His Minister, Peter Dutton, is responsible for this misery and must be held to account."

Last year's senate report was critical of the operator of Nauru's detention centre, saying secrecy surrounding the facility contributed to fear among those detained there.

'The culture of secrecy which surrounds offshore processing only serves to increase the risk of wrongdoing and abuse and contribute to fear among asylum seekers that no one will protect them, and that misconduct by staff will go unpunished,' the report said.

Transfield Services, the Australian government contractor that runs the detention centre, recently changed its name to Broadspectrum.

The report of widespread self-harm at detention centres comes a day after the government released of an official statement vindicating the conduct of a number Save the Children workers who were removed from Nauru in 2014.

The Save the Children workers were sent home after the government claimed there were political motivations behind them raising asylum seekers' concerns about sexual harassment from guards.

Labor's Richard Marles said Friday's official statement found "no evidence the staff acted outside their duties and that they should be offered compensation".

"The Government needs to today issue an immediate apology to Save the Children and the staff involved," he said.

"Instead of constantly playing the blame game, this Government should focus on improving facilities and increasing processing of asylum seekers."

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