Nick Tabakoff, Daily Telegraph, June 6, 2011
Legal and medical sources told The Daily Telegraph scores of detainees were preparing claims against the Australian Government and detention centre operators Serco and G4S.
Revelations of the damages claims come at the worst possible time for the Federal Government, with tension in detention centres rising through overcrowding as the number of detainees hits a record high.
Among those making claims are Iranian Mehrnoosh Yousefi and her adult son, who have both been granted refugee status.
Mrs Yousefi’s husband, former Iranian oil industry engineer Parviz Yousefi, achieved notoriety when he sewed his lips together and attempted suicide several times while in detention at Woomera between 2001 and 2004.
In 2008 Mr Yousefi was reportedly awarded a record damages payout of more than $800,000 for psychological damage suffered in detention.
Dr Zachary Steel, senior lecturer in psychiatry at the University of NSW, said that he had been told of multiple pending lawsuits.
“There are a number of cases going through at the moment,” he said.
He also had “heard discussions of class actions”.Dr Steel said the basis for most of the lawsuits was psychiatric harm caused by trauma experienced in detention, including riots, self-harm and, in some cases, allegations of mistreatment by inmates and centre operators.
There were also cases where detention resulted in injury, pain and suffering.
Mrs Yousefi has lodged a claim in the NSW Supreme Court on behalf of herself and her son against four parties, including the Commonwealth of Australia and G4S.
Slater & Gordon’s Bill Madden confirmed the pair had claimed detention had “resulted in serious psychological damage”.
Mr Yousefi suffered horrific experiences after being separated from his wife and son while in detention, resulting in self-harm.
Mrs Yousefi was quoted in 2008 as saying her husband would never work again and would require medical care for the rest of his life.
In some cases asylum seekers have made claims for lost earnings during and since their detention, citing factors such as an inability to concentrate and the need for ongoing medical treatment.
There are also believed to be workers compensation claims involving psychological and physical trauma concerning staff at the centres.
A spokesman for federal Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said last night: “It wouldn’t be appropriate to comment on legal cases before the courts.”
The psychiatric damage of detention
Australia has more people in detention centres than ever before.
Latest figures–for May–show detainee numbers have grown over the past two years to just under 6800.
Detainees are also spending more time in centres ill-equipped to handle them. University of NSW expert Dr Zachary Steel said that, since detainee numbers burst through the 2000 mark about 18 months ago, centres had become “trauma-inducing” settings.
Dr Steel’s research found that, after six months in detention, asylum seekers started “to get a really harmful mental health outcome”.
The Government’s latest figures show just under 4400 detainees–65 per cent–have been in detention for a minimum of six months.
“I am almost certain more than 80 per cent of detainees will be found to be genuine refugees,” Dr Steel said. “We will create a burden for society because of huge psychiatric damage.”
“Is It is bad policy–and it doesn’t deter people from coming.”