Isolation and desperation on Nauru: “I miss my family, I want to get out of here”

MEDIA RELEASE: A group of 39 people seeking asylum forced to Nauru after arriving in Beagle Bay (WA) in February have made contact with the ASRC, reporting significant distress, emerging mental health issues and suicidal thoughts as they are confronted with indefinite family separation and Australia’s cruel offshore detention regime. This follows reports a further 10-15 people have been taken to Nauru after arriving in the Kimberley over the weekend.

Men the ASRC have spoken with on Nauru have been given no clear information about how long they’ll be held offshore and how long it will take to assess their protection claims. This is causing significant distress and confusion and their message for the Albanese Government is clear:  “I miss my family. I want to get out of here.”

Some of the men have advised ASRC they were offered return resettlement packages prior to applying for protection or having their protection claims assessed, with a few reporting they’d been told they could be in detention for up to 10 years. The latest Department of Home Affairs (DHA) statistics indicates that four people held on Nauru have been found to be refugees and 54 protection claims are still to be determined. The ASRC is concerned that unless all protection claims are prioritised with urgency, there is a high risk people will be coerced into returning to countries where they face persecution and risk of violence or death.

The ASRC can confirm the Beagle Bay group are young men, most in their 20s and 30s, from Bangladesh, Pakistan and India. Following a series of in-depth phone assessments with interpreters and ASRC’s specialist caseworkers, men have spoken at length about missing their families and loved ones, with some concerned for the safety of small children and partners in their countries of origin.

Access to communication tools is limited, with men only given access to basic phones that don’t allow for messaging apps or video calls. Men have reported smartphones were taken off them when they arrived on Nauru and some have been refused requests to speak or video call with sick relatives.

ASRC is extremely concerned men do not have access to specialised trauma counselling with many reporting emerging mental health concerns such as  stress, anxiety, depression, isolation and suicidal thoughts. Previously on Nauru, detainees could access specialised trauma support but this function has now been given to general health providers IHMS, despite a lack of expertise and experience to provide this specialist service.

The ASRC will continue to provide support to people held on Nauru while their protection claims are being assessed. The men ASRC has spoken with are held in RPC1, and it is anticipated the latest arrivals will be detained there also. The Nauru detention facility is run by controversial US Prison Company MTC and contracted and funded by the Albanese Government, with the most recent contract for $350 million.

At this stage, the ASRC has been unable to contact the most recent transfers and the approximately 15 people from the September and November transfers who are reported to be living in community detention on Nauru.

Person seeking asylum, currently held in detention on Nauru:
“People are feeling very depressed, especially hearing what happened to people who were sent to Nauru in the past. We are scared. The security officers threatened to send us to jail if we do something wrong. But we haven’t done anything wrong.

“We don’t know what will happen to us. The guards told us we might be here for 10 years. We have bad mental health because we are apart from our families and we don’t know when we will see them again. One man’s uncle died and he asked the guards if he could video call his family, but he wasn’t allowed to.”

Jana Favero, ASRC Director of Systemic Change:
“Nothing good has ever come from sending people to brutal offshore processing centres and nothing good comes from secrecy. The Albanese Government needs to put an end to this clandestine approach of  keeping people offshore and front up with details about their welfare and whether their protection claims are being assessed fairly.  A decade of failed policy and appalling treatment of people transferred to Nauru is telling and we must learn from past mistakes.

“It shouldn’t be up to charities like ASRC to piece together information as to the treatment of people transferred to offshore detention centres, people who sought safety on our shores, who we sent to Nauru, to a detention centre we are paying for. The duty of care to Australia is clear.’’

Heidi Abdel-Raouf
“Speaking to the men through our intake clinics has been heartbreaking. Many had never even heard of Nauru and had no idea about how brutal this Government’s treatment of people seeking safety can be.

“What they need right now is answers about their future and access to specialised trauma support as they deal with the aftermath of what they’ve left behind in their home countries and the ongoing trauma of being isolated and detained on Nauru with no certainty about their future.”


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