Message from Hugh de Kretser: Appalling treatment of our client after suicide attempt on Nauru

Last week we began legal action in the High Court of Australia on behalf of 10 asylum seekers and their families challenging the lawfulness of the Australian Government’s offshore detention arrangements.

We’re helping a very vulnerable group of people – including people with serious medical issues, families with young children and one family with a newborn baby – who’ve asked us to take urgent steps to stop them being sent back to detention on Nauru.

While the Government has powers to detain asylum seekers in Australia and powers to remove them from Australia, it is another thing altogether to then spend billions of dollars procuring their detention in the territories of other sovereign nations. It’s this detention, and this expenditure, that our clients’ case will challenge in the High Court.

I also wanted to tell you about one client who was denied the chance to be part of this case.

A woman, labelled “Ruth” by the ABC’s 730 program, was brought to Australia for medical treatment following multiple recent suicide attempts in detention on Nauru. Her husband has been in Australia for three years waiting for his refugee application to be processed. Their four year old son has been in detention with Ruth on Nauru.

When my colleague Daniel Webb tried to talk with Ruth at 5pm last Thursday, two security guards refused to leave the room saying she was on suicide watch and needed to be monitored. He couldn’t give her confidential legal advice in those circumstances so the meeting had to end. The Immigration Department subsequently apologised and said arrangements would be made for a private phone call the next day.

The next day Daniel came into work to learn that at 5am that morning, Ruth had been woken and deported back to Nauru. She was removed without notice and without the chance to speak to her husband or her lawyer.

In 12 hours the Department had gone from saying this woman was too suicidal to be left alone with her husband and with her lawyer on the phone, to sending her back to the very place where she had attempted to take her own life just a few days before.

This one family’s situation speaks to so much about what is wrong with our asylum seeker policies; the mental destruction caused by indefinite detention; the cruel separation of families; the crushing delays in processing refugee applications; and the deliberate frustration of access to lawyers and the rule of law.

The Human Rights Law Centre will continue to seek justice for individuals and pursue systemic change to unjust laws and policies. Your ongoing support for our work is greatly appreciated.

Hugh de Kretser is Executive Director as the Human Rights Law Centre.

You can see some of the media coverage about this case and Ruth’s story here: