A reply from an advocate to Peter Dutton about self-harm

My first thought on seeing the video of Omid setting himself on fire was that he didn’t have a support person. If he did, they would have talked him through his suicidal thoughts in the night or the morning and he would have settled down.

Reprinted from Eureka Street: http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=48299#.VywSbL9R6ao

Di Cousens |  08 May 2016

As an advocate for refugees, I talk to those on Manus at all times of the day and night and make sure they are okay.

Of course, they are not okay, but so far all of my friends are still alive.

We, the advocates, keep their spirits up by sending them clothes, games and keeping their phones paid-for so they can talk to their families. We keep them informed about what is going on in Australia. We do not encourage them to hurt themselves in order to get attention or put pressure on the government. We do everything possible to stop them from hurting themselves or attempting suicide.

After Omid’s death, more than one had copycat thoughts. This was an intense time for those of us who listen and care for these people.

The asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru can talk to the paid staff of the detention centres, who may try to stop them from self-harming.

However, many of the paid medical staff also try to get them to go back to the country they came from, even though they have a well-founded fear of persecution there. If they did not have such a fear, they would have left by now. The conditions on Manus and Nauru are subhuman and they are being treated with deliberate, organised cruelty.

On Manus I regularly hear of inmates being beaten by guards for offences such as having a mobile phone. The guards who beat the inmates are not charged for these crimes. The guards who raped women and children on Nauru have not been charged either.

“One of my friends says that he is finding it increasingly difficult to see his friends’ blood every day, after they have cut themselves.”

Of the six people identified in the murder of Reza Barati, two were white Anglo-Saxon guards — an Australian and a New Zealander. They have been repatriated to Australia, and not charged.

The refugees are living in a fearful and dangerous place, and the consistent message from the Australian government is that they have no hope. It is the message of hopelessness that causes self-harm and suicide.

Their medical conditions are untreated, many have skin diseases and injuries from falling over while wearing thongs on slippery wet ground, and they live with chronic pain. A large proportion take psychiatric medication every day, which also limits their ability to think.

They are constantly retraumatised. One of my friends says that he is finding it increasingly difficult to see his friends’ blood every day, after they have cut themselves.

We, the advocates, believe that hope is not lost. We believe in the rule of law, in human rights, and in the innate dignity of others. We don’t believe that it is defensible to mistreat a group of people so as to stop others from seeking asylum. We don’t believe it is defensible to treat a group of people as tools in a war of politics. These people need protection, dignity and opportunity, not punishment.

It will soon fall to the Australian government to relocate the refugees from Manus and Nauru, and I and other advocates look forward to welcoming them to Australia. Australia cannot go knocking on doors, seeking to offload human cargo on other countries. This is infra dig — beneath the dignity of a developed country with an elected government. We have room, and in arriving by boat the asylum seekers have committed no crime.

Peter Dutton, 3 May 2016:

I have previously expressed my frustration and anger at advocates and others who are in contact with those in regional processing centres and who are encouraging some of these people to behave in a certain way believing that pressure exerted on the Australian government will see a change in our policy in relation to our border protection measures. The behaviours have intensified in recent times and as we see they have now turned to extreme acts with terrible consequences.

Advocates who proclaim to represent and support the interests of refugees and asylum seekers must frankly hear a very clear message and I will repeat it again today. Their activities and these behaviours must end. They can oppose government policy and espouse a cause for open borders but that is not the policy of this government and no action of advocates or those in regional processing countries take will cause the government to deviate from its course.