Refugee advocates concerned for detainee held in Brisbane hotel for 16 months

Calla Wahlquist
·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Darren England/AAP</span>
Photograph: Darren England/AAP

Refugee advocates have raised concerns about the welfare of a 37-year-old man who is under suicide watch at the Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodation after attempting self harm.

The man, from Somalia, had been detained in a hotel at Kangaroo Point in Brisbane since being transferred to Australia from Nauru under now-defunct Medevac laws in June last year.

He was approved for transfer under clauses allowing people to reunite with family members in Australia for medical treatment. His wife and infant son were transferred to Australia in 2017 because his son was having trouble breathing.

They now live just 20 minutes from the motel where he has been detained for 16 months. But the family has not been reunited, and since coronavirus restrictions were introduced in March they have been unable to visit.

Related: Protesters demanding release of Medevac asylum seekers barricade themselves inside Melbourne hotel

“The only time he has seen his wife and son is when his wife brings his son to the fence,” Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul said. “That’s the only time he has seen them since March.”

In recent weeks they have been unable to visit because both have been unwell. “He is extremely distressed to be so close to them and not be able to provide any kind of support,” Rintoul said.

The man attempted to self-harm about 3am on Saturday but guards at the Serco-run facility intervened.

He was then kept at Kangaroo Point, without any medical support or assessment, for about 12 hours before being transferred to Brisbane Immigration Transit Accomodation and placed under watch as high risk.

As of June there were more than 100 people held in detention at Kangaroo Point, which has been designated as an alternative place of detention. All were transferred to Australia from Nauru or Manus Island under medevac laws, which were repealed in December.

Related: How an inner-city motel became a detention centre for more than 100 refugees

Rintoul said detainees at Kangaroo Point, and the Mantra hotel in Melbourne, were now living in more restricted conditions than existed on Nauru. Because of the coronavirus lockdown, all in-person visits have been banned.

Meanwhile prisoners in Queensland are now allowed to receive visitors, with Queensland Corrective Services allowing the resumption of in-person from 28 September.

There have been suicide attempts among the immigration detainees at both hotels.

“They thought when they were transferred here they were going to get medical help, including in some cases for mental health,” he said. “Many of them have not got that medical help that they were promised. There are people who have applied [for refugee status in] Canada, but that has been stalled because of the pandemic.

“At least there is a balcony at Kangaroo Point. At Mantra they can’t open the windows.”

Guardian Australia has sought a response from the Department of Home Affairs.

  • In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org