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2011 Media Release: Mental health impacts of indefinite detention a major concern at Curtin detention centre

Asylum Asylum Seekers and Refugees

The Australian Human Rights Commission has raised serious concerns about the mental health impacts of indefinite detention on people held at the Curtin Immigration Detention Centre.

Releasing a report on a visit to the centre, Commission President Catherine Branson QC said the Commission is worried about high rates of self-harm at the Curtin centre, which now holds the highest number of detainees.

“Detainees talked about the impacts of being deprived of their liberty for a long time with no certainty about their release date and of long delays with processing of their refugee claims,” Ms Branson said.

At the time of the Commission’s visit, more than three quarters of people detained at Curtin had been detained for longer than six months and more than one third had been detained for longer than a year.

Ms Branson said the extremely remote location, the harsh physical environment, crowded dormitories and limited access to communication facilities had exacerbated frustration levels at the centre.

“Detaining people, many of whom have fled experiences of torture or trauma, for long and uncertain periods in a remote area with limited access to specialist health and mental health services has the potential to be extremely harmful,” she said.

Ms Branson said detainees told the Commission of their difficulties coping with the isolation caused by being detained in such a remote location.

“They are also witnessing the alarming mental health breakdown of fellow detainees including self-harm incidents and an apparent suicide earlier this year, and some of them say they fear they will ‘go mad’ if they are held in detention much longer,” said Ms Branson.

“One Afghan man told us, ‘We feel that we have lost everything here – our hope, our health, our memories, our names, our ability to help our families, our minds. We are more than half way to dead now. We are all dying here, from the inside out. We see others who have gone mad and think that we are going there too.’

Ms Branson said the visit to the Curtin centre, which held 1433 men at the time, reinforced the Commission’s longstanding concerns about Australia’s immigration detention system.

“Our concerns have escalated over the past two years as the number of people in detention has grown, people have been detained for longer periods and incidents of self-harm and suicide have increased,” she said.

“Australia’s system of mandatory and indefinite detention is unnecessary, counter-productive and extremely costly. Instead of sending asylum seekers to third countries or subjecting them to indefinite detention in remote facilities, we should be using cheaper and more humane alternatives like bridging visas and community detention.”

Ms Branson acknowledged the efforts of staff working at the Curtin detention centre, but said urgent reforms were needed to end the practice of indefinite detention in remote locations and to address delays with processing of refugee claims.

The Commission’s report is available at
and photos taken during the Commission’s visit to Curtin IDC are available at

Up to the minute information on human rights is now available on twitter at

Media contact: Julie Nehme (02) 9284 9851 or 0419 258 597