The uncertainty around Australia’s refugee deal with the United States is causing “frightening” psychological damage to detainees in limbo.
Amnesty International told a Senate inquiry details of the agreement – labelled by President Donald Trump as a “dumb deal” – were still very unclear and it’s causing stress for asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru.
The impact of Mr Trump’s new travel ban was a serious concern, particularly for Iranian families and those that have been separated.
“Is this a deal that’s simply going to separate families forever?” Amnesty refugee co-ordinator Graham Thom told senators on Wednesday.
“It may be very confusing for us and an interesting academic exercise … but it’s very real for the people sitting on those islands.
“The damage that it’s causing, psychologically, is frightening.”
Mr Thom claimed a teenage boy on Nauru attempted suicide earlier this year following Mr Trump’s initial executive order banning travellers from seven countries.
Amnesty is calling for clarity on the deal to send refugees to the US, which it fears could leave hundreds without a resettlement option, but also wants resolved quickly.
“These people just can’t stay on the island.”
Amnesty’s senior research director Anna Neistat, who wrote a report claiming the offshore detention system amounted to torture, was shocked when she visited Nauru last year.
She told senators on Wednesday conditions were akin to conflict areas she had previously visited – including Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen and Chechnya – and the level of suffering and despair was among the worst she had ever seen.
Dr Neistat told of three children who attempted suicide recently, including a 13-year-old girl who did so while still recovering from a previous attempt.
The inquiry also heard the case of a woman who has a broken tailbone and requires surgery but has not been flown to Australia for the operation.
Another woman who claims to have a growing lump in her breast is still awaiting diagnosis, despite having another lump removed in 2016.
The committee’s investigation into allegations of abuse, self-harm and neglect of asylum seekers will also hear from the government’s OH&S body Comcare, representatives from asylum seeker medical care provider International Health and Medical Services, and immigration and foreign affairs officials.
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