Report delves into issue of refugee detention and suicide

Report reveals strong correlation between the rise in the average time in detention and the increase in self-harming behaviour during 2011.
Report reveals strong correlation between the rise in the average time in detention and the increase in self-harming behaviour during 2011. Department of Immigration and Citizenship

DELAYS in processing asylum-seeker claims and infrastructure struggling to keep up with the rising tide of boat arrivals were key factors in suicide and self-harm in Australia's immigration detention network, the Commonwealth Ombudsman has found.

Ombudsman Colin Neave released a report on suicide and self-harm within the detention network on Tuesday.

The report paints a picture of a bureaucracy struggling to keep up with changing government policies, increasing arrivals and funding constraints.

It highlights 11 deaths within the network between August 2010 and April this year, at least four of which were the result of suicides.

It found the Department of Immigration was under significant strain in maintaining day-to-day operations of the network, while responding to changes in government policy, increasing infrastructure available and recruiting and training the number of staff needed.

While Mr Neave acknowledged the operational challenges, he wrote: "The department may not have fully appreciated some of the lessons gained from the experience of self-harm in immigration detention in the early 2000s.

"Overall, we believe the department is now in a stronger position in terms of capacity to manage the immigration detention network and associated risks and issues," he wrote.

"However, this investigation has found scope for further improvement, and also identified lessons that can be learned from challenges of the recent past."

Mr Neave's report found a rise in self-harm in the network in 2011 was not just due to the rising number of detainees, but reflected an increased rate of self-harm by detainees.

"There is a strong correlation between the rise in the average time in detention and the increase in self-harming behaviour during 2011," the report reads.

"We acknowledge that this was during a period when irregular maritime arrivals were not, as a matter of government policy, entitled to be released from detention on bridging visas while their claims were still being processed."

Among the specific problems identified were slow response by the department to problems identified by stakeholders and external scrutiny bodies, and delays to external accreditation of health services in detention facilities.

It also found there were "significant delays in the roll-out of the psychological support program for the prevention of self harm for people in immigration detention".

The report also found the "incident reporting framework" was inadequate and other concerns related to data collection about self-harm within the immigration network.

However, Mr Neave also acknowledge the department was already working to correct many of the problems identified in his report, and that the rate of self-harm and suicide has fallen in recent months.

The department has responded to the Ombudsman's report, accepting fully or in part all of the recommendations for action.



  • Aug 2010: Afghan at Curtin, WA.
  • Sept 2010: Fijian at Villawood, NSW.
  • Nov 2010: Iraqi at Villawood
  • Dec 2010: Briton at Villawood.
  • March 2011: Afghan Scherger, Qld.
  • March 2011: Afghan at Curtin.
  • July 2011: Afghan in community detention, Vic.
  • Oct 2011: Sri Lankan at Sydney Immigration Residential Housing.
  • Feb 2012: Iranian at Sydney Immigration Residential Housing.
  • June 2012: Sri Lankan in community detention, NSW.
  • April 2013: Papua New Guinean, detained at Villawood, died in NSW hospital.


  • 2008-09: 985
  • 2009-10: 5327
  • 2010-11: 4730
  • 2011-12: 8371
  • 2012-13: 11,599

Source: Department of Immigration

Topics:  asylum seekers australian government detention centre immigration refugees

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