News National We’d rather die, say Christmas Island kids

We’d rather die, say Christmas Island kids

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It’s a unsettling image, drawn in texta by a 14-year-old asylum seeker at Christmas Island.

Two children stare sadly out a large grill fence separating them from another youngsters playing happily with a dog and mucking around with toys.

Child health expert Elizabeth Elliott says the reality at the centre is no less grim.

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During a recent visit to Christmas Island she encountered unaccompanied teenagers who had lost all hope, mothers bent on self harm and children everywhere sick from the cramped conditions.

“We were really quite upset by what we saw,” the professor of paediatrics at Sydney University told AAP.

“As a pediatrician the most distressing element was the degree of hopelessness, and utter sadness and a sort of helplessness expressed by children.”

Prof Elliott on Thursday will give evidence at a national inquiry into children in immigration detention being run by the Australian Human Rights Commission.

20140730001004828025-originalThe inquiry comes at a heated time, with the Abbott government responding angrily to suggestions from church groups that detaining unaccompanied minors amounted to state-sanctioned child abuse.

Prof Elliott recently interviewed some of these lone teenagers among hundreds of others at Christmas Island, and found their testimony highly distressing.

“You’ve got children saying `My life here is death’, or `I would rather die’,” she said.

“Some of them they were calling it `my home in jail on Christmas Island’.”

She said the rate of anxiety and other mental health stresses among children had escalated significantly after a spate of recent attempted suicides by women at the centre.

These women were “at the end of their tether” and had been waiting for more than a year to find out about their claims for asylum.

Serco has a contract with the Government to operate a number of detention centres.
Another Australian detention centre: Villawood.

For the children who witness their mothers trying to self-harm, the emotional distress was clearly evident.

“This is already a very vulnerable group of children who are really being re-traumatised,” said Prof Elliott.

Another issue is the isolation of the camp, with Prof Elliott reporting numerous health complications arising from the distance Christmas Island is from the Australian mainland and specialist medical care.

It’s not the first time alarm bells have been rung about Christmas Island.

Following her visit, commission president Gillian Triggs reported that almost all children at the centre were regressing, sick and suffering symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said there was no evidence to back those claims and the human rights commissioner was not a doctor.

“I think they’re quite sensational claims that have been made,” he told ABC TV’s 7.30 program on Wednesday.

The government maintains it has reduced the number of children at Christmas Island by more than 60 per cent.