Asylum seeker cover-up allegations constitute abuse in care
31st Jul 2014
Allegations that the Department of Immigration tried to cover up mental health problems amongst child-aged asylum seekers constitutes abuse in care and may leave the Commonwealth liable for a swathe of future compensation claims, the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) said today.
The Department was forced to answer allegations before the Human Rights Inquiry into Children in Detention today that it had pressured doctors to remove figures from reports pointing to ‘significant’ mental health issues amongst detainees under the age of 18.
ALA spokesperson Greg Barns expressed alarm at the allegations, saying it was disturbing that a government department would take actions of this nature.
“It is extremely alarming that a Commonwealth agency would seek to put pressure on a group of health professionals not to reveal evidence of mental harm,” Mr Barns said.
“The Minister for Immigration and his department have a duty of care for all persons they detain.
“If the allegations are true, this would indicate that that duty of care has not only been undermined but ignored, with the result that further mental and physical harm has been sustained by detainees.
“These are extremely serious allegations,” Mr Barns said. “There needs to be an independent inquiry as to what exactly the department told these health workers.
“As we have seen in relation to the Catholic Church and other institutions, supressing information about mental and physical harm that is occurring to individuals in care amounts to systemic abuse,” Mr Barns said.
Mr Barnes said any action by the Department to knowingly or even recklessly prevent the reporting of information about harmful practices in detention will leave the Federal Government liable for substantial compensation claims in the future.
Information released under FOI laws to the Australian Lawyers Alliance revealed that more than $21 million had been paid in compensation to immigration detainees since 2001 for unlawful detention.
“These findings indicate that the government was aware of the deleterious impact of immigration detention on children’s mental and physical health,” Mr Barns said
“However, rather than act in the ‘best interest of the child’, as provided by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the government has moved to cover up and hide such information.”