PM tells asylum seekers hunger strikes will not change outcome
Julia Gillard … taking a hard line on self-harming asylum seekers. Photo: Getty Images
Hunger strikes and suicide attempts by asylum seekers on Nauru will not get them ''anywhere'', Prime Minister Julia Gillard said on Monday.
Her hard line comes after reports by Fairfax Media that asylum seekers were attempting to hang themselves and self-harming within one month of arrival at Nauru.
''The first point to make is it doesn't get you anywhere, doesn't get you a changed outcome,'' she said. ''Unfortunately people do sometimes take that step, but I do want to be very clear.
''Having a hunger strike or anything like that does not change people's outcomes.
''The only thing that happens for people in our asylum-seeker facilities is there is a proper assessment of whether or not they are a genuine refugee.''
Ms Gillard's comments are at odds with Immigration Minister Brendan O'Connor who on Saturday said through a spokeswoman: ''No one wants to see incidents of this kind, which is why the Gillard government is moving people into community detention where appropriate.''
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.
An employee of Serco, operators of other detention centres and who asked not to be named, told Fairfax Media he believed self-harming had escalated so quickly on Nauru and Manus Island because asylum seekers were aware that thousands of others who arrived after August 13 were being released into the community on bridging visas.
''They know they're the examples,'' the employee said.
''They were pulled out of a hat to go to Nauru or Manus and they've been made examples.''
The Department of Immigration and Citizenship took three months to release incident reports about the first three months of the Nauru processing centre under freedom of information laws.
Among the self-harm documented by immigration and private staff was the revelation that two men tried to commit suicide on October 13, less than a month after the centre began taking asylum seekers.
Authorities estimated 260 people were on hunger strike on November 3. There were then 377 asylum seekers on the island.
The Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the revelations contained in the documents showed people were being driven to desperate measures.
''It forces them to take these desperate acts to make people aware how bad their situation is,'' she said.
The Australian Human Rights Commissioner, Gillian Triggs, is getting legal advice on whether she has jurisdiction over the asylum seekers held in offshore camps on Australia's behalf.
''A legal question was raised by the Attorney-General's Department as to the scope of the commission's jurisdiction in other sovereign countries, such as Papua New Guinea and Nauru,'' Professor Triggs said.
''We are expecting advice from the Solicitor-General in the near future. There is also an ethical element because the president of the commission cannot hold out a promise to consider complaints from those detained on Manus Island or Nauru if we do not have jurisdiction to do so.''
Senator Hanson-Young will introduce an amendment on Wednesday to try to force Australia to ensure Professor Triggs' access to the camps.