Refugee advocates obtain child self-harm records

Darwin Airport Lodge. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

The Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network (DASSAN) released documents exposing the “appalling” extent of child self-harm in a Darwin detention centre on February 18.

DASSAN obtained the documents via a Freedom of Information request, which took the department of immigration more than nine months to release. They detail 26 cases of self-harm by detained refugees aged 9 to 17 between August 2010 and November 2011.

Spokesperson Fernanda Dahlstrom said the documents “concern one detention centre over a relatively short period of time”.

“Children detained in other detention centres are likely to have gone through the same trauma as these children.”

The incident reports, seen by Green Left Weekly, describe teenagers and children often being found with cuts to their arms and hands, and sometimes barricading themselves in their rooms or refusing help from certain staff.

Some were taken to hospital and discharged with stitches and medication, to be placed under “constant” or “moderate” observation.

The forms were mostly filled out by Serco's “client service officers”. Often a phone call from a department of immigration manager would be recorded.

Dahlstrom said: “Despite all the evidence of the harm that is done to children as a result of immigration detention, the immigration minister continues to detain children and as long as he does children will tragically continue to self-harm.”

She said the minister could not act as guardian of unaccompanied minors while also overseeing their indefinite detention with its associated trauma.

DASSAN said the documents add to concern over children sent to the Manus Island detention camp. Refugees held in the camp do not have access to legal help or advocate support, the group said.

A recent report from the UN refugee agency said children in the camp had witnessed several suicide attempts and acts of serious self-harm.

“Months after the announcement that children will be sent offshore, they still have not been told how long they will have to endure offshore detention,” Dahlstrom said.

“In the months and years to come an epidemic of child self harm is likely to occur on Manus Island. If it does, the government cannot say they did not see it coming.

"They know significant trauma is caused to children by detaining them and it is appalling they will keep sending children to Manus Island.”