Refugee Children In Detention 'Among Most Traumatized': Doctors

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Australia Human Rights Commission report: Kids seriously damaged

By medical reporter Sophie Scott and Katherine Gregory

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Feb. 4, 2016) – Children are being seriously damaged by being held in detention, a new report has found, with doctors who treated them describing them as the most traumatised children they have seen in 50 years.

Australian Human Rights Commissioner Professor Gillian Triggs has released a report on the findings of two doctors who interviewed 69 families with children in Darwin's Wickham Point Detention Centre.

Professor Elizabeth Elliot said 19 children had high levels of post-traumatic stress, with many others despairing of their future.

"These children, most of whom had spent months in Nauru, are among the most traumatised we have ever seen in our 50 years of combined professional experience," Professor Elizabeth Elliott said.

"They are having nightmares and vomiting, nausea and problems concentrating at school."

Many children were self harming, the report found.

Paediatrician Dr Hansantha Gunasekera assessed young children in the Wickham Point centre.

"We found every child was at developmental risk," he said.

"We were deeply disturbed by the numbers of young children who expressed intent to self-harm and talked openly about suicide and by those who had already self-harmed."

Professor Triggs has urged the Federal Government to rethink its plan to send children back to Nauru.

"Detaining children was not an effective deterrent to people smugglers," she said.

More than 50 of the 70 children who are at risk of being forcibly sent to Nauru are being held at Wickham Point.

The High Court has ruled Australia's offshore detention at Nauru and Manus Island is legal, clearing the way for more than 220 asylum seekers, including more than 30 babies, to be returned to Nauru.

Professor Elliott and Dr Gunasekera recommended that under no circumstances should any child detained on the mainland be sent to Nauru.

"Many of the children had palpable anticipatory trauma at mention of return to Nauru," Professor Elliott said.

"Nauru is a totally inappropriate place for asylum seeking children to live, either in the detention centre or in the community."

"The only appropriate management of this situation is to remove the children from the environment which is causing or exacerbating their mental ill-health," Dr Gunasekera said.

7yo girl drew pictures of own funeral: doctor

Another paediatrician said children held in Darwin's immigration detention centre have the worst mental health problems he has seen.

Doctor Josh Francis said many of the children were terrified at the prospect of being sent to the island and the removal would exacerbate existing mental and physical health problems.

"One of the devastating things about living in detention in the current climate is they [the children] don't have any hope," Dr Francis said.

"And we're seeing children suffer significant mental health problems because of that lack of hope."

Dr Francis said he had seen many children with depression and anxiety.

He also saw one seven-year-old girl who had attempted suicide, and drawn pictures of her own funeral.

"A seven-year-old girl with the clarity of mind to even think this situation is so hopeless that I want to end my life ... is so shocking and absolutely devastating," Dr Francis said.

"Not only does she think like this on this occasion, but it's a pervasive theme for her thinking of death and dying that comes out ... in her thinking, talking and the pictures she draws."

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