Refugees’ protest ends with suicide attempts

Rooftop protest by Rohingya refuges at Darwin detention centre in March.
November 2, 2011

An eight-day protest on the rooftop at the Northern Immigration Detention Centre (NIDC) in Darwin ended shortly before five refugees “locked themselves in a room … where one man took an overdose of sleeping pills while the other four began cutting themselves,” the Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network (DASSAN) said on November 2.

Serco guards broke down the door and one man was taken to hospital. Two other refugees later tried to hang themselves.

Rohan Thwaites from DASSAN told Green Left Weekly the hospitalised man’s condition was unknown.

“It’s hard to know exactly what’s happening because the media is not allowed in. The department strictly controls what everyone sees,” he said.

The latest protests and incidents of self-harm followed months of similar actions, including hunger strikes and several cases of grave-digging.

Thwaites said the situation in NIDC is getting worse. “As more reports of self-harm and suicide attempts come out, the situation is reaching boiling point. These incidents do feed on each other.

“It is very distressing for everyone when these kinds of things happen. Often other asylum seekers bear witness or are involved in trying to prevent it. Many suffer vicarious trauma and distress of having to be involved.”

Two refugees staged an eight-day protest on the roof of the Darwin detention centre. The Rohingya men were both found to be refugees in May last year, but remained in detention for “security checks”. They have been in detention now for more than two years.

Thwaites said the protest showed their desperation. “It’s over 30°C everyday here [in Darwin]. It’s incredible that they were up there in these conditions.

“But getting up on a roof and holding a banner is really the last and only option they have to show how distressed they are.”



The men pleaded with the immigration department to be moved into community accommodation while their security status is assessed by ASIO. But their calls appeared to be unheard.

“They ended their protest but they are still in detention. However this shows that their general release — the release of all asylum seekers — is something that needs to happen,” Thwaites said.

“The picture there is just one of regular, if not daily self-harm — it’s a humanitarian dictator and it’s getting worse.”

Despite similar incidents taking place frequently in the Darwin detention centre, the immigration department plans to open a second NT detention centre at Wickham Point, 35 kilometres from Darwin.

Thwaites said: “DASSAN is very concerned about the opening of the Wickham detention centre. We’ve repeatedly called on the department to scrap its opening. It goes against all the evidence and even the statement by the department that they would hold more people in community detention.”

The new planned centre is remotely located and too far from the services and support needed by refugees in detention.

DASSAN said the site was swamp-like with a high mosquito and midge infestation, and had previously been deemed too dangerous for human habitation.

Thwaites said: “If this centre does open — if it gets filled with 150 people — it will make NIDC look like a holiday camp. It’s going to be really horrendous out there.

“Unfortunately the government won’t yet listen to us and the multitude of parties out there saying that detention must end. We’ll keep advocating until the government starts to listen.”

[DASSAN will hold an end of year event on December 1 at the Darwin Railway Club, Parap.]

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