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Officials in Canberra have announced a probe into the high number of suicide and self-harm incidents recorded among asylum seekers in Australian detention centers. According to Allan Asher, the country’s chief Ombudsman, official data indicates that there is currently a problem and that the figures have been on the rise. More than 1,100 actual or threatened self-harm incidents were registered in the past year, reported the BBC.
“I was myself on Christmas Island [home to one of the most strife-hit centers] at the end of June and there were 30 incidents in that week, and then across Australia in the first week of July, 50 incidents,” Mr. Asher told ACB television on Thursday.
The UN has criticized the Australian policy of mandatory detention of all asylum seekers while their applications are being processed. Mr. Asher has noted the impact of the policy too, stating that he was ‘alarmed’ by the impact of long-term detention.
“We think there is something seriously wrong that needs to be looked at.” In recent years, the policy has been softened to allow more women and children into the community but the move has left detention centers with a large population of males who are now separated from their families.
According to figures from the Australian Department of Immigration, there were a total of 6,535 irregular maritime arrivals (IMAs) in 2010. As of late April 2011, 4,552 IMAs were detained on the mainland while 1,748 were held solely on Christmas Island.
Louise Newman, chair of the Detention Health Advisory Group told The Straits Times, a Singapore-based newspaper, that there have been five suicides in detention since September 2010 and added that a one young man tried to hang himself every night somewhere in the system.
According to ABC television, the problem is so widespread on Christmas Island that staff are required to carry a knife at all times so they can cut down detainees who attempt to hang themselves.
Mr. Asher has launched an inquiry which will examine the root causes of the unfortunate development and figure out what practical steps can be taken to identify and manage those at risk of self-harm. His report is due by the end of this year, according to the BBC.