Secret world Australia wants to ignore: The plight of refugees in detention
Australia is known for its beaches, laid-back lifestyle, and welcoming nature. Yet, there is a secret world that most Aussies don’t know about, a world filled with fear, danger, and unimaginable pain for refugees trapped in detention.
Khatereh and Nikita* are just two of the many refugees who have fled persecution, only to find themselves subject to sexual advances and violence while under the care of the Australian government.
Nikita, who fled Iran to escape punishment for converting from Islam, was detained on Nauru after being denied asylum in Australia. Despite being granted refugee status four years later, Nikita was sexually assaulted by a group of men while riding her motorbike home from work. Her medical documents detailed the graphic sexual assault and sex acts she was forced to perform.
Khatereh, who fled persecution in Iran with her family as a child, spent most of her youth in an Australian-run offshore detention centre on Nauru. She was also subjected to sexual advances as a minor during her time on the island.
The legal failures
The Australian government has breached its duty of care towards refugees like Khatereh and Nikita by denying them access to legal representation and appropriate medical treatment while in detention.
In 2018, the Federal Court of Australia heard that Khatereh had been put at risk of death due to the government’s failure to provide her with access to safe and appropriate medical treatment. The court ordered that Khatereh and her family be urgently transferred to the Australian mainland for medical treatment.
The ongoing struggles
Despite being released from detention, both Khatereh and Nikita continue to struggle with the trauma they experienced while in detention.
Khatereh has been barred from participating in further tertiary education due to visa restrictions, despite completing her HSC. Nikita is currently living in Melbourne under community detention and doesn’t have the right to work or study.
Both women are concerned about the unequal support provided to refugees in the refugee advocacy system, with some receiving more support than others.
- Since 2012, Australia has detained more than 4,000 refugees and asylum seekers offshore in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
- According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, there is a high prevalence of mental illness among refugees and asylum seekers in detention.
- Refugee support organisations have reported incidents of self-harm, suicide attempts, and sexual assault among refugees in detention.
The stories of Khatereh and Nikita highlight the ongoing struggles faced by refugees in detention. The Australian government must do more to provide refugees with access to legal representation and appropriate medical treatment, and ensure that all refugees receive equal support in the refugee advocacy system. It’s time for Australia to acknowledge and address the secret world it wants to ignore.
The plight of refugees in detention is a global issue, but it’s one that hits close to home for Australians. As a nation, Australia prides itself on its welcoming nature, but it’s time to face the truth: the system in place to care for refugees is failing. It’s time to take a hard look at our policies and practices, and make the changes necessary to ensure that refugees are treated with dignity and respect.