Asylum Seekers 'Suffering Indefinitely' In Immigration Detention, Report Claims

"Significant failures" to provide reasonable medical care, including around suicide attempts.

Detainees in Australian immigration detention are not properly cared for following suicide attempts, subjected to overuse of restraints, and routinely denied medication for medical conditions, according to a damning new report from a public advocacy body.

‘In Poor Health: Health care in Australian immigration detention' looked closely at the stories of 24 asylum seekers in detention centres around the country and offshore, including Christmas Island, Villawood, Yongah Hill and Maribyrnong.

The report, compiled by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), called for the federal Migration Regulations to be amended to legislate a minimum standard of healthcare for detainees.

Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre (AAP Image/Andrea Hayward)

"We are seeking fair and humane treatment for people who are especially vulnerable, consistent with our fundamental duty of care," said PIAC CEO, Jonathon Hunyor.

"This should not be controversial."

The PIAC report examined healthcare in detention centres and, in the words of the centre, "finds it wanting". The PIAC claimed there are asylum seekers in some centres "with serious, chronic diseases and injuries suffering indefinitely without access to treatments that are freely available to prisoners and members of the broader community."

Around 1800 people are held in immigration detention, according to figures cited. Detainees are held in secure facilities for 426 days on average, and almost 20 percent spend more than 730 days -- two whole years -- in detention.

"This report demonstrates significant failures by the Commonwealth government to provide reasonable medical care to those being held in immigration detention centres and in community detention," PIAC wrote.

Looking closely at 24 detainees that the PIAC counts as clients, and with a particular focus on five egregious or extreme cases, the report painted a damning picture of the care available to people who are often already vulnerable and at-risk.

The PIAC said it "identified a number of patterns" including:

  • routine denial of antiviral therapy for detainees living with hepatitis C;
  • failure to properly physically and psychologically treat suicidal asylum seekers following unsuccessful attempts at life,
  • misuse and overuse of handcuffs and mechanical restraints

The centre identified a series of severe cases, including a man with complex post-traumatic stress disorder being continually handcuffed and restrained, despite experiencing panic attacks and seizures from the treatment.

PIAC also said at least eight of its clients who have hepatitis C did not initially receive treatment for the condition.

The Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre in 2010 (AAP Image/Andrea Hayward)

In at least one case, the treatment was allegedly not provided to a detainee because he was not eligible for the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, and therefore the federal government would have had to pay the full cost for his medication. It took more than three years for his medication to be approved.

PIAC called for the Migration Regulations to be amended and a new condition setting a minimum standard of healthcare to be inserted.

Villawood Immigration Detention Facility, in, 2014 (AAP Image/CrowdSpark/KATE AUSBURN)

Also included in the recommendations is a call for more training for detention centre staff, and more input from an independent health advice panel to provide further guidance on how to promote health in detention.

"The failure to provide this care has real, often tragic, consequences," PIAC wrote.

"The Australian government is not fulfilling its common law duty of care to people in immigration detention, many of whom have already experienced high levels of trauma prior to arriving in Australia, trauma that is then compounded by long-term, indefinite detention and sub-standard conditions of confinement."

Comment has been sought from the Department of Home Affairs.