Dear family, friends and colleagues,
As many of you know I recently spent a week on Christmas Island and a week on Nauru as a psychiatrist employed by IHMS to see asylum seekers in detention. I found the experience on Nauru particularly disturbing, prompting me to write the attached letter to the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.
Families of asylum seekers on Nauru are housed in unairconditioned marquees with only plastic sheets separating families and affording little privacy. Families with children under four years old are provided with air conditioning of sorts. Toilet and shower blocks are located some distance away from the tents making many anxious about going to the toilet at night. To be fair, the health services for asylum seekers in detention are good and a well functioning primary and secondary school has recently re-opened in the detention centre. It is run by Save the Children. There is also an excellent interpreter service. Several people commented that the situation for single young men is even worse than that for families however, as I did not see any single men I cannot comment from personal experience.
The most distressing aspect of the situation is that these families will never be allowed to seek asylum in Australia, specifically because they arrived by boat after a set date in 2013. This certainly engenders a real sense of despair among many of those I spoke to during my visit. Those asylum seekers granted refugee status will be granted visas by Nauru and will live in the community but will no longer be able to access the services available within the detention centre. Opportunities for employment and higher education on Nauru seem very limited and the health services are little above those one might expect in third world countries.
For anyone interested I can strongly recommend the August 2012 Report of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers chaired by Angus Houston. It is a thoughtful pragmatic consideration of the problems of discouraging people from risking their lives at sea by providing incentives to choose the regular and better regulated channels for seeking refugee status in Australia and elsewhere in the region. It is also full of interesting facts about refugees in general.
I am sending this email to share something of my experiences and to encourage those of you who may share my views to express your dissatisfaction in whatever way you may feel appropriate. Please feel free to use any of the information in this email or my letter as you see fit.
MBBS, Ph.D, M.Crim (For. Psych.), FRACP, FRANZCP