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“Hunger strikes and suicide attempts by asylum seekers on Nauru won’t get asylum seekers ”anywhere”,  Prime Minister Julia Gillard said on Monday. Her comments came after revelations from Fairfax that suicide attempts began after just a month of asylum seekers being sent to Nauru… ”Unfortunately, people sometimes take that step,” she said in Canberra.

…According to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, in the 2011-12 financial year about 90 per cent of people who arrived in Australia by boat were later found to be refugees.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the conditions on Nauru and the Manus Island processing facilities were ”unacceptable”. ”They are unacceptable for a humane nation such as Australia to be putting refugees into these conditions,”  Senator Hanson-Young said. ”It forces them to take these desperate acts to make people aware how bad their situation is.’’

The Immigration Department reports… show despair quickly escalated among detainees in the centre, with hunger strikes and self-harm becoming regular occurrences within a month.

The first transfer of asylum seekers took place on September 14. On October 13, two men tried to hang themselves inside their tents – one with a bed sheet and one with tent ropes. An email sent by a director within the department on October 13 said one man was found hanging by a tent rope inside his tent about 6.50 pm.

”Client [redacted] was cut down by two Wilson Security client service officers who were doing . . . monitoring of two other clients when they saw the incident,” the email reads. ”Client [redacted] was taken to IHMS [International Health and Medical Services] but is not co-operating with medical staff. IHMS advise he has no obvious injury but is very distressed. IHMS also advises he had been hanging for under a minute.”

Regular protests and rolling hunger strikes were reported.

On October 31, one man climbed a light pole, tied a sheet around the top of the pole in a loop and tried to hang himself, only to be caught as he fell by security guards. At the same time, another man cut his own head with a razor blade. ”These clients continue to be problematic,” the report states.

Protests escalated the next day, after allegations a security guard had punched an asylum seeker as a crowd gathered below the pole to watch the man.

…Australian Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young says cases of asylum seekers self-harming and going on hunger strikes reflect the cruelty of the federal government’s border protection policies.

”This policy is all about being cruel and mean and it has nothing to do about saving lives,” Senator Hanson-Young told reporters in Canberra on Monday…

Asylum Seeker Resource Centre chief Kon Karapanagiotidis said the documents revealed the true purpose of offshore processing. ”This is no accident – this is a case of these centres working exactly how they’re meant to and destroying people,” he said. ”These are not camps for processing; they’re camps designed for the psychological torture of asylum seekers.”

The Immigration Department has in the past declined to confirm how many people have taken part in hunger strikes on Nauru, saying meals continued to be taken from the mess area. But one document states that on November 3, about 260 asylum seekers were involved in a hunger strike – what the department dubs ”voluntary starvation”. At the time, there were 377 asylum seekers on the island.

”Eight clients have been treated by IHMS for heat exhaustion,” the report reads. ”All these clients are currently involved in a voluntary starvation protest. It has been reported that these clients were at the point of collapse.”

The next day, a brief report noted that 17 people had by then been treated by IHMS after becoming involved in hunger strikes: nine had been treated with intravenous fluids, and eight had been given basic treatment.

The reports also show that staff were monitoring whether photographers appeared to be in the area, particularly when asylum seekers were gathering in view of a nearby ridge beyond the centre’s boundaries.

By November 6, the strain of detention appeared to be taking its toll on some. An officer reported in a case note: ”Six ropes, shaped as nooses, were found inside a client tent . . . this afternoon. A cardboard cutout of a person was displayed hanging outside the tent. The ropes and cardboard figures were removed by Wilson Security.”

Asylum seekers had made five mock graves in the recreation area and written on a table, ”Hunger strike till we die. Freedom of death.”

Mr Karapanagiotidis expects to see hunger strikes and suicide attempts increase as asylum seekers become even more desperate.

”These people shouldn’t have to pay with their lives just to help someone win an election,” he said. ”The only thing that is going to change this is for the government to uphold their obligations under international human rights laws and process these people in the community.”…

With BENJAMIN MILLAR

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