Australian Politics

Nauru asylum seekers reportedly sewing lips shut over visa denial


Suicide attempts are on the rise and more than a dozen asylum seekers have sewn their lips shut on Nauru since the Abbott Government announced changed visa arrangements last week, advocates say.

WARNING: This article contains graphic images

More than a dozen refuges have attempted suicide, according to activists, who have also alleged that at least seven children have sewn their lips together in the wake of the Abbott government's recent visa decision.

The decision, announced last week, could mean the reintroduction of temporary protection visas to boat arrivals on Christmas Island and the mainland.

However neither temporary protection visas nor the newly-created Safe Haven Enterprise visas will be available to detainees on Nauru or Manus Island, sparking what the Refugee Action Coalition's Ian Rintoul called an “epidemic of self-harm”.

“You've got the young woman who is in hospital in Sydney after drinking laundry liquid,” he said.

“There's at least another six of the minors who have cut themselves in one way or another. It's an epidemic of self-harm.”

The government confirmed over the weekend that a 15 year-old girl held on Nauru had been medically evacuated to Australia.

The Refugee Rights Action Network's Victoria Martin-Iverson said the spike in self-harm was a direct result of the Abbott government's decision not to offer visas to boat arrivals on Nauru or Manus Island.

Ms Martin-Iverson said asylum seekers from the same boat had been sent to different facilities in what she described as “an arbitrary, grotesque human rights lottery”.

“Now what the Minister is saying is that the people who lucked out and got left behind and not sent to Nauru have a possibility of getting a temporary protection visa,” she said.

Since the announcement, Ms Martin-Iverson said she'd received dozens of images of asylum seekers protesting and self-harming.

"I've heard that up to seven teenagers have sewn their lips and a large number of adults," she said.

SBS has obtained some of the pictures purported to show Nauru asylum seekers with their lips sewn shut.

Ms Martin-Iverson says the pictures are clearly a cry for help, and she's been asked to share them.

“We've been asked 'please, please tell the Australian public what is happening to us,” she said.

“Tell them that our women and children are being physically abused by staff members. Tell them that our women are being threatened with rape. Tell them that our children are being sexually harrassed, sexually touched and have been physically abused by staff.”

Ms Martin-Iverson is in regular contact with dozens of asylum seekers being detained on Nauru and a number of detention centre staff.

She said asylum seekers are meeting several times every day to protest, while refugees released into the community are also demonstrating.

Messages that appear on the protestor's placards include "I'm tired, please kill me," "Suicide is sweeter than Australia's dirty policy," and "Only our corpses might go to Cambodia."

Ms Martin-Iverson said she's concerned about the protestor's safety.

“During some of the protests inside the camp we know that Save the Children workers were removed from the camp so they can't bear witness to what has happened and then it's been just the security staff that have been inside the camp,” she said.

“What I am hearing from people is that the guards are behaving in an aggressive manner and I can't really say any more than that.”

SBS put specific questions to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, requesting confirmation of or further information regarding the allegations of suicide attempts and self-harm on Nauru.

This included a request relating to reports of at least 7 minors and up to a dozen adults on Nauru sewing their lips together over the past week.

Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison did not confirm the reports, instead supplying the following statement.

“In recent days there has been a negative reaction from those transferred to Nauru to the Government’s new TPV legislation. Several peaceful protests have been held.

“The Government has put in place additional support to assist the Nauruan Government to respond to any incidents and to ensure the welfare of those residing at the centre is properly cared for.

“While the Government acknowledges that the transferees on Nauru are dissatisfied with the Government’s policy, the Government cannot and will not consider any changes to the policy for those who have been transferred to offshore processing centres, based on protest activity.”

Allegations of abuse, sexual barter

The rising tensions on Nauru come amid fresh allegations of abuse by guards.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young is calling for an independent investigation into the claims made to her by asylum seekers on the island.

Senator Hanson-Young said there had been allegations that women are being forced to strip and exchange sexual favours in order to get access to showers and other amenities, as well as accusations and allegations involving sexual abuse including children.

She added she had also been told of allegations of threats of rape of women if they are to be resettled outside the detention camp.

Senator Hanson-Young said asylum seekers have raised the concerns with their case managers on the island but nothing has been done.

Refugee Action Coalition's Ian Rintoul said he's heard similar allegations.

“Trading sex for basic items that are in the store, extra time in the showers,” he said.

“The other more general instances of suggestions that sexual cooperation would lead to more favourable treatment either in those kinds of basic needs or sometimes even suggestions that their case could be looked on more favourably."

Assistant Minister for Immigration, Michaelia Cash, has told the Senate the allegations have been referred to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

“This government, as with any government, takes any allegations of this nature very seriously and as I stated they have been referred to the department of Immigration and Border Protection for investigation,” she said.

“But at this stage they are allegations.”

Security provider Transfield Services has referred SBS to the Minister's office.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. 

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