Mentally ill refugees 'can seek payouts'
May 23, 2010
THERE is no doubt asylum seekers who develop mental illness in detention can seek compensation through Australian courts, according to legal experts.
Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre co-ordinator David Manne said there would be a case for people to seek redress under Australian law if they could show their mental health had been damaged by time in immigration detention.
''If someone is subjected to conditions which are harmful or which cause them damage, then there is no doubt they could seek redress under Australian law,'' Mr Manne said.
Advertisement: Story continues below
Australian Lawyers Alliance director Greg Barns said this would affect taxpayers.
''The detention of asylum seekers, particularly women and children, is not only legally dangerous for the Commonwealth but will cost taxpayers millions in claims,'' he said.
Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young said the government was ignoring the human cost of detention.
"The only conclusion that can be drawn from the government's dogged pursuit of a policy of suspended claims, desert prisons and indefinite detention is that it does not care about the emotional and psychological damage caused by that policy and the human cost that follows from it,'' she said.
A spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Evans denied this was the case.
''People in immigration detention are treated fairly and humanely, with dignity and respect.
''They are provided with appropriate services, including support and counselling services, while detained,'' he said.
Psychologist Paula Farrugia conducted assessments of refugees at Sydney's Villawood Immigration Detention Centre from 2003 to 2008.
''Many of these people come into Villawood with pre-existing conditions which are certainly intensified … this has a lot to do with indefinite detention. I can certainly speak for a worsening of psychological wellbeing,'' Ms Farrugia said.
In her assessments of asylum seekers at Villawood, she said she saw people whose emotions developed from a feeling of numbness or hopelessness to expressing a desire for self-harm.
In these cases, self-harm could take the form of hunger strikes, cuts or burns.
''Some people then attempted suicide as an extreme manifestation of their psychological condition,'' she said.
Alwy Fadhel has been at Villawood for 2½ years since arriving illegally from Indonesia. He said his mental health was fragile and he had been denied access to a psychologist.
''My psychologist said he can't meet me any more,'' Mr Fadhel said. ''But he told me I have symptoms of psychosis. This place is no good for me.''
Mr Fadhel arrived by plane with a fake passport. He has been put into Villawood's high security section, Stage 1, three times. Of his time in detention, he said his experiences in Stage 1 were the worst.
''It was like torture,'' he said. ''I still live in a cage like an animal … I am not a criminal. Why they punish me?
''One time, when my friend dies, the nurse does not say sorry. She said, how are you? Of course I am sad.
''Then they put me in Stage 1. They didn't give me my medication in Stage 1 and I almost collapsed.''
He takes painkillers for abdominal pain, but refuses to take anti-depressants.
''I could not think any more on anti-depressants. I don't have a lawyer, or anybody to help me if I take them,'' he said.