Asylum seeker mothers attempting suicide

A wave of attempted suicides has swept Christmas Island as 12 mothers tried to kill themselves in the belief their then-orphaned children would have to be settled in Australia.

Fairfax Media has spoken with three independent sources who confirmed the women tried to end their lives after being told they would be taken to Nauru or Manus Island, believing their children would have a better chance of living in Australia if they were dead.

Jacob Varghese, who is a principal at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers and who is representing 72 asylum seeker babies, said the mothers had become extremely distressed when told by immigration officials this week that they would never be resettled in Australia because they arrived after July 19, 2013.

Arrivals after this date will not be settled here, as enacted by Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

''We are gravely concerned about the welfare of the families on Christmas Island,'' Mr Varghese said.

''We have heard from our clients there that in the last day several women have attempted suicide or harmed themselves. They are in a state of utter despair.''

Mr Varghese said his clients, many of whom have newborns, feel they are in a ''living hell''.

One woman tried to hang herself, while others starting cutting themselves with glass, he said.

''Keeping children and families on Christmas Island is monstrous,'' he said. ''It is bad enough that we keep children imprisoned. But there is no sensible reason that families cannot be detained on the mainland where they would have access to the medical and welfare services they require.''

According to the Migration Act, section 4AA, children should be detained only as a last resort. Many mothers and their children have been held on the island for nearly a year, Mr Varghese said.

The president of Christmas Island Shire Council, Gordon Thompson, confirmed there had been women attempting suicide in the detention centre. ''They are saying, 'The babies have better chance at life if I am dead,' '' he said. ''Their thinking is that if the babies have been born in Australia, they cannot be sent anywhere else.''

A spokesman for Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison said: "It is longstanding government practice not to confirm or comment on reports of individual acts of self-harm.''

It comes as figures show numbers in offshore detention centres have risen sharply with asylum seeker children more likely to be in detention camps than adults.

Figures from the Refugee Council of Australia show nearly a quarter of children (23 per cent of 4331) in Australia's immigration detention system are in detention centres, including 208 children in the Nauru centre.

This is in contrast to 18 per cent of adults being held in detention centres.

Figures also show many more asylum seekers are living in the community on bridging visas than in detention centres.

"The use of mandatory detention as a deterrent to people arriving by boat to seek asylum is one of the most unsuccessful of all Australian government policies,'' said refugee council chief executive, Paul Power.

For help or information call Suicide Helpline Victoria on 1300 651 251 or Lifeline on 131 114, or visit

This story Asylum seeker mothers attempting suicide first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.