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Report raises alarm over detention centres
AAP May 26, 2011
A damning report on immigration detention shows that riots will continue and more lives will be lost unless significant changes are made, refugee advocates say.
The Human Rights Commission said it was "increasingly alarmed" at rising rates of suicide and self-harm among detainees and called for an end to mandatory detention.
Its report, released on Thursday, paints a disturbing picture of life inside Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney.
Members of the commission visited the centre last February, where they were told about self-harm incidents such as voluntary starvation and the ingestion of detergent and chemicals.
People had cut themselves, hit their heads and attempted hangings.
There had been three suicides within three months at Villawood and 18 reported incidents of actual or attempted self-harm over a six-month period.
"What we saw at Villawood was the result of the system of mandatory and indefinite detention, where people can see no end in sight," said the commission's president, Catherine Branson.
"We saw people scarred from self-harming. We heard others talk of sleepless nights, days of depression and frequent thoughts of suicide."
The report notes a "palpable sense of frustration and incomprehension" contributing to anxiety, despair and depression.
This resulted in the use of sedatives and antidepressants, and serious self-harm incidents.
Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) CEO Paul Power said the report drew much-needed attention to the hopelessness and desperation felt by asylum seekers and refugees who were detained indefinitely.
"If significant changes are not made to Australia's system of indefinite detention, we can expect more lives to be lost, unrest to continue and further damage caused to the mental health of asylum seekers," he said in a statement.
According to the report, there were 6715 people in immigration detention across Australia as of May 6.
More than half of those people had been in detention for longer than six months.
Sixty per cent of the 400 detainees at Villawood had been held for more than six months while 45 per cent had been there more than a year.
"These long periods of detention are extremely concerning and risk breaching Australia's human rights obligations," the report says.