“By Michael Gordon:
An Iranian asylum seeker reportedly attempted suicide last night at the Nauru detention centre after the Gillard government announced that many of the asylum seekers who have arrived since offshore processing resumed would be released into the community on bridging visas.
Immigration officials confirmed an “incident of attempted self-harm” at the centre, saying the injuries were minor and the man had been treated on-site.
Refugee advocates said the Iranian attempted to take his life after hearing of the new policy, whereby the “no advantage” principle that is intended to apply to those sent to Nauru has been adapted for those who will remain in Australia.
They said that the injured man had been taken to the facility’s medical centre and remained separated from other detainees.
Amnesty officials who visited the centre last night reported that many asylum seekers were in a highly anxious state after the announcement, and asking why they had been sent to Nauru, while others who arrived at the same time would be released into the community.
There was also despair after Immigration Minister Chris Bowen confirmed that they could be waiting five years before being resettled in Australia if their claims for refugee status are upheld.
“I think the news came as a real kick in the guts to the guys inside,” Amnesty’s Dr Graham Thom told this reporter.
Mr Bowen conceded that the surge in arrivals since the re-opening of centre on Nauru and Manus Island was announced in August 13 meant that it would not be possible to transfer all who had arrived after that date to the offshore centres.
Under the extension of the ”no advantage” test, Mr Bowen said these people would not have work rights, would receive modest income support and would not get permanent visas until they had waited as long as if processed offshore. The wait on bridging visas could be as long as five years, he said.
The no advantage principle is aimed at ensuring that those who arrive by boat receive no advantage in terms of resettlements over those who remain in transit countries like Malaysia and Indonesia.
In other actions on Wednesday, the government also transferred the first asylum seekers to Manus Island – seven Sri Lankan and Iranian families including four children, the youngest aged 10 – and announced an expansion of accommodation on the Australian mainland to cope with the numbers.
On the fourth and final day of their visit, the Amnesty officials returned to the processing centre this morning during a heavy downpour which is likely to highlight their concerns about the conditions in the centre, with many asylum seekers complaining of leaking tents and wet bedding”