December 03, 2012
An asylum seeker being held in the Nauru detention centre has described the place as a “slaughterhouse” that pushes detainees to attempt suicide.
The Iranian man, known as Mehdi, says 10 asylum seekers have tried to take their own lives over the past week, and 25 people are currently on a hunger strike.
The latest unrest inside the detention centre comes as Opposition Immigration spokesman Scott Morrison arrives in Nauru to inspect the facilities following concerns about the treatment of asylum seekers.
Last month Amnesty International described conditions inside the detention centre as “completely unacceptable”, adding that the mental health of asylum seekers was at risk.
Speaking on ABC Radio National, Mehdi accused the Federal Government of failing to treat asylum seekers like human beings.
“If I was aware they’re going to take [sic] us like this, I never [would have] came to Australia, but now I don’t have any option,” he said.
“Maybe I choose some other country – there are many countries who are treating asylum seekers like human beings.
“This is not a detention centre, this is a slaughterhouse. This cruel place compels them to attempt suicide and the guys [are] hurting themselves.
“In our country, we were living with the fear of being killed physically, but here the Government [is] killing us mentally.”
A spokesman for the Immigration Department was unable to comment on Mehdi’s claim that 10 asylum seekers have attempted suicide, but said that there were 12 reports of self-harm over the past week.
Australian Human Rights Commissioner Professor Gillian Triggs, who has been granted permission to visit the Nauru detention centre, says Mehdi’s comments are “very, very disturbing”.
“If the facts are anything close to the way they’re described, then we really are in very serious breach of our obligations,” she said.
Professor Triggs plans to film conditions inside the facility to provide objective evidence of what it is like and to avoid suggestions her impressions of the centre are inaccurate.
Her main concerns are two-fold – that asylum seekers are not having their refugee claims processed, and that there is now a significant difference in how people are being treated in offshore centres as opposed to those released into the Australian community on bridging visas.
The Government announced last month that it would be granting bridging visas to thousands of asylum seekers because there had been too many boat arrivals to accommodate everyone in offshore centres.
Those released into the community will be given a small amount of welfare support, but not allowed to work.
Mehdi says it is unfair that some people are able to live in Australia, while others are being held in detention centres overseas.
“Please treat us asylum seekers in the same way as you’re treating the asylum seekers there in inside the detention centre of Australia,” he said.
“What is the difference between us and them? We all are the same. We all are humans, and we are not criminals – we didn’t commit anything.”