The mental health crisis inside the detention centre on Christmas Island is now taking its toll on those who guard the asylum seekers, with one female employee attempting to take her life and a male considered at serious risk of self-harm.
The two Serco employees, whose distress was prompted by prolonged exposure to depressed and self-harming asylum seekers, have been flown to the mainland.
A welcome sign by management company Serco adorns the side of a building at Phosphate Hill Detention Centre on Christmas Island. Photo: Getty Images/Scott Fisher
Workers at the centre fear the situation will deteriorate further following the news that young children in mainland detention centres are to be released into the community, while those on the island face eventual transfer to indefinite detention on Nauru.
Sources said the two employees had been ''on constant'', meaning they were required to prevent asylum seekers on suicide watch from self-harming for the duration of their 12-hour shifts. ''It really does their heads in because they're watching people trying to kill or harm themselves all the time,'' one insider told Fairfax Media.
''The pressure of being with clients, at arm's length, for 12 hours a shift with no relief and seeing slashings and attempted hangings is taking a toll,'' said another.
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, who was alerted to the situation by a Serco employee, said the plight of the guards represented ''a new chapter of misery'' in Australia's treatment of boat arrivals.
''These attempts by people to take their own lives on Christmas Island are not moral blackmail, as the Prime Minister has previously said. They are the result of the government's cruel and inhumane refugee policies,'' she said.
While a Serco spokesman would not comment on individual cases, he said precautions were taken where there were concerns.
''For our employees on Christmas Island, this might include supporting them to seek medical help, putting them on paid special leave, and flying them home from the island. We recognise that our staff do a difficult job in circumstances which are sometimes challenging, and we have a range of measures in place to support them.''
The removal of the workers comes after a recent spike in self-harm incidents on Christmas Island. Last month the Australian Human Rights Commission and a team of medical experts described a ''mental health crisis'' on the island, confirming multiple suicide attempts and self-harm incidents.
Commission president Professor Gillian Triggs said there were 13 mothers on suicide watch and their condition was deteriorating during her visit to the island as part of the commission's national inquiry into children in immigration.
For help or information call Suicide Helpline Victoria on 1300 651 251 or Lifeline on 131 114, or visit beyondblue.org.au