Gross neglect at the heart of refugee service provision

Two reports released this month indicate widespread neglect and denial of basic human rights of refugees and people seeking asylum. 

The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, conducted a monitoring mission in Australia’s detention centres on Manus Island in June. The mission revealed a lack of support services for the 750 men who remain there.

UNHCR inspectors reported a “high level of tension and further deterioration in the mental health” of those detained, with deep-seated fear of abandonment by the Australian government a significant contributing factor. 

The ongoing lack of support will likely result in serious health problems that are “clearly foreseeable and preventable”. There are no processes in place to assess those at low, medium or high risk. Those with the most significant needs have not been monitored regularly since October.

The closure of the Regional Processing Centre last year and the forced removal of detainees to facilities with even fewer services coincided with the health care provider, IHMS, scaling down its services. This has placed significant strain on the Lorengau hospital and resulted in the removal of trauma and torture counselling services. 

Accommodation is also woefully inadequate, below the minimum required by the International Standard of the Red Cross. Some rooms are polluted by leaking waste-water pipes. The ceiling of one is black with mould. The rooms are not fitted with smoke alarms, and refugees can’t access fire extinguishers. 

A second report, “States of Refuge”, released by Liberty Victoria, analyses health, housing and education services available to refugees and asylum seekers on various bridging and temporary visas. 

Tasmania is rated the worst for the provision of social housing for refugees and people seeking asylum. The only eligible people are Australian citizens or permanent residents. Even if a refugee gains permanent residency, they are eligible only if they have an independent income and a Commonwealth health care card.

The report says that the inadequate provision of essential services – and the strict regulations around work and study for those on or applying for temporary visas – forces people to rely on charity and not-for-profit organisations to survive. 

One case study in the report describes an asylum seeker with no education or employment rights expressing frustration. “I am not angry I do not have visa, but I am angry I cannot study, I don’t have income, I have [no] Medicare, [and] I can’t work”, he said.