Nauru suicide attempts 'on the rise'

An aerial view of Nauru. (Getty)

Activists say 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.

(Transcript from SBS World News Radio)

Activists say 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.

Under the changes boat arrivals on Christmas Island and the mainland could access temporary protection visas or newly created Safe Haven Enterprise visas, but detainees on Nauru or Manus Island won't be eligible.

Activists say this has sparked frequent protests on Nauru, and what one person has described as an "epidemic of self harm".

As Thea Cowie reports, asylum seekers have sent disturbing pictures to advocates.

(Click on the audio tab above to hear the full report)

More than a dozen attempted suicides; and around a dozen adults and children sewing their lips together -- that's the impact of the Abbott government's recent visa decision according to activists.

The Refugee Action Coalition's Ian Rintoul is calling it an "epidemic of self-harm."

"You've got the young woman who is in hospital in Sydney after drinking laundry liquid. 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."

On Saturday the government confirmed that a 15 year old girl held on Nauru had been medically evacuated to Australia.

The Refugee Rights Action Network's Victoria Martin-Iverson says the spike in self harm is a direct result of the Abbott government's decision to offer visas to boat arrivals on Christmas Island and the mainland, but not on Nauru or Manus Island.

"People from the same boat - some were sent to Manus, some to Nauru, some remained on Christmas Island in an arbitrary, grotesque human rights lottery. And 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."

Since the announcement Ms Martin-Iverson says she's recieved dozens of images of asylum seekers protesting and self harming.

She 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. 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."

The human rights activist is in regular contact with dozens of asylum seekers being detained on Nauru and a number of detention centre staff.

She says 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."

The Refugee Rights Action Network spokeswoman says she's concerned about the protesters' 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. What I am hearing from people is that the guards are behaving in an agressive manner and I can't really say any more than that."

In a statement to SBS Immigration Minister Scott Morrison did not confirm or deny the reports of self harm.

He did say there had been "several peaceful protests" and Australia is giving the Nauruan government extra help in responding to incidents at the centre.

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 she says were made to her by asylum seekers on the island.

"Allegations that women are being forced to strip and exchange sexual favours in order to get access to showers and other amenities, accusations and allegations involving sexual abuse sadly also including children, the trading of marijuana inside the detention centre in exchange for sex and other sexual favours, allegations of threats of rape of women if they are to be resettled outside the detention camp."

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

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

"Trading sex for basic items that are in the store, extra time in the showers. 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. But at this stage they are allegations."

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




Source World News Australia

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