The Guardian 16 March, 2005

Detention horrors one size fits all

Andrew Jackson

The Howard government has actively sought to dehumanise and demonise refugees and asylum-seekers. Amidst a campaign of fear and racism, refugees and asylum seekers are branded as "illegals". They are then herded en masse into inhumane and often far-flung detention centres without any consideration for their health, welfare or circumstances.

Further revelations have now been made about the gross mistreatment of Australian resident Cornelia Rau throughout her illegal incarceration in Australia's criminal and immigration detentions centres.

It has been confirmed by an investigation by Channel Nine's Sunday program that the psychiatrist contracted by the Department to assess Baxter Detainees once every six to eight weeks reported to the department that Ms Rau was most likely suffering from mental illness.

Though he would not comment publicly on Ms Rau, when read a list of symptoms he reported at that time, Dr Frukacz said: "Well, certainly those kinds of symptoms would lead one to strongly consider the diagnosis of a psychotic condition such as schizophrenia".

The notes that Dr Andrew Frukacz made at the time indicate the only way a correct diagnosis could be made of Ms Rau's illness would be through observation in a hospital.

Yet Ms Rau never received hospital treatment, and remained locked in Baxter often in the "Management Unit" for another three months. The Management Unit is where detainees are sent for "behaviour modification", isolating them from other detainees for safety reasons or because they have been deemed "trouble-makers".

An unidentified Baxter detainee told Sunday:

"Her behaviour is totally different than normal people. She was crying and scratching her body and just feeling very impatient. She was in family compound and I have many friends in that compound. And I was told that she removed her clothes and she was naked and very sick mentally sick, and she behaved like that. So instead of caring for her, or giving medication for her sickness, they brought her to Management."

Another of the so-called trouble-makers was Eric Upton, a British citizen who had overstayed his visa. He says he was put into Management after protesting his lack of access to a dentist.

Locked in solitary confinement in the room next to Ms Rau, Mr Upton confirmed she was displaying signs of mental illness that were obvious to all detainees as well as the guards. Mr Upton then went on to describe incidents of abuse he had witnessed Ms Rau suffering because of her behaviour.

"The Sunday program's revelations add to the growing picture of a department out of control that does not provide appropriate care or thorough processes and whose actions are harming and punishing those in its care", said Greens Senator Kerry Nettle.

"The Minister must answer these questions rather than hide behind her private inquiry that she has not committed to appear before "

"This is why a judicial inquiry is needed into the Minister and Department of Immigration's actions re Cornelia Rau and other detainees", Senator Nettle said.

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