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- By Ehssan Veiszadeh and Paul Osborne
- September 25, 2012 5:19PM
ANOTHER 24 asylum seekers have been transferred to Nauru’s offshore processing detention centre, amid warnings the facility will not be adequately equipped to deal with mental health problems.
A FOURTH GROUP OF 24 ASYLUM SEEKERS HAVE BEEN TRANSFERRED TO NAURU, THE IMMIGRATION DEPARTMENT SAYS. AAP
The 20 Iranians and four Sri Lankans arrived on a chartered aircraft from Christmas Island on Tuesday and were being settled into accommodation at the temporary facility.
The arrival of the fourth group of men takes the number of asylum seekers on Nauru to 120.
“The completion of this transfer reaffirms the strong message of deterrence for anyone considering risking their lives on dangerous people-smuggling boats,” the immigration department said.
However, the total will drop to 119 once a Sri Lankan man who has decided voluntarily to return to Colombo from Nauru is moved out.
The man wants to go home because of “family circumstances and compassionate reasons”, an immigration department spokesperson said.
The federal government last month committed to sending asylum seekers who arrive in Australian waters by boat for processing on Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island.
But Professor Louise Newman, the chairwoman of the immigration health advisory group which has been guiding the immigration department since 2006, says a contract covering asylum seeker facilities on the islands doesn’t deal adequately with mental health.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen last week tabled in parliament a copy of a heads of agreement with the company International Health and Medical Services (IHMS), which includes a section on mental health and a list of health professionals.
A page headed “staffing arrangements” shows a maximum of about 33 staff on Manus Island, but no on-site counsellors and only a part-time psychiatrist.
Counselling services are to be provided “via telemedicine through the Sydney Assistance Centre”.
Nauru would have up to 44 health staff, including two counsellors, two psychologists and a part-time psychiatrist, and also have access to the telephone service.
Professor Newman said past experience had shown asylum seekers processed offshore had higher rates of mental illness than those on the mainland.
She said the IHMS contract gave no indication of independent oversight of health care on the two new centres, despite offshore processing being a “high-risk situation”.
“What is needed is an overarching body with powers to look at trends in mental health, data collection around self-harm and suicidal behaviour, use of medicines, and the power to investigate those things,” Prof Newman told AAP on Tuesday.
She said staffing levels were inadequate and there appeared to be no flexibility to increase resources over time as detainees’ mental health worsened over time.
“Psychiatrist and psychologist time is minimal,” she said.
There was also no provision for pediatric medicine or mental health, even though the government has signalled minors could be sent to the two centres.
The government expects about 500 asylum seekers will be on Nauru by the end of September.
It will have capacity for 1500 people, while Manus Island will be able to take 600.
On Saturday, a group of 18 Sri Lankan men left Christmas Island to be repatriated to Colombo before they could be transferred to Nauru.
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