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Behind The Wire

Behind The Wire Project: Your FOI Requests

Behind The Wire - A Graphic Portrait of Life in Detention

July 22, 2013

TGM intern Isaac Johanson was moved by one particular incident in Behind The Wire to lodge an FOI request with the Department of Immigration. He discusses his reasons here:

I noticed this particular incident because of both the unreported, potentially devastating effects on the minor involved, and the seemingly routine manner in which it is presented in the report.

We do not know from the report whether the overdose was intentional, nor whether it was fatal; however, I believe it is indicative of the desperate circumstances surrounding involuntary detention currently underway in Australia. That a mother may be willing to abandon her child by committing suicide seems to speak to just how hopeless and miserable some detainees must feel.

Presumably the full report contains more relevant information regarding the post-incident psychological and physiological state of the child in question, and his or her mother (if indeed she survived the suicide attempt). I want to access the full report to humanise the incident, to further understand the condition of involuntary detainees, and to participate in the ‘de-normalisation’ of these horrific events that are rendered banal by the bureaucratic tone of the DIAC/Serco summaries.

I would like to highlight the traumatic repercussions for the minor involved (which are largely ignored by the DIAC/Serco incident report) as an example of information vital to the situation, and our understanding of it, which can only be accessed through a FOI. Moreover, an FOI would produce information regarding the staff protocol during, and following, this incident, the medical treatment of the child and her mother after the event and whether the mother has since committed suicide, attempted to do so, or if she remains stable.

Dehumanising such significant, devastating events is dangerous, yet it occurs largely unnoticed. It adds an element of expendability to human lives and turns traumatising human experiences into little more than a figure. I believe that through transparency and accessibility — including the FOI release of full incident reports, we can increase public awareness, help reduce the trivialisation of horrific detention centre incidences and truly empathise with the detainees and their deplorable situation.

June 5, 2013

Indre McGlinn, an intern at The Global Mail, made several Freedom of Information (FOI) requests via Behind The Wire, our interactive map of incidents that have occurred at Australia’s Detention Centre. Here’s why:

Villawood IDC | 4/12/2009 12:40 am

It is shocking how little detail is included in many of the incident reports completed by Serco. This entry is a clear example. To me, it seems to give nothing more than the bare minimum in accordance with procedural guidelines. I would like the response to this FOI request to provide at least basic information on the incident in question. What kind of restraints were used? What did the detainee do, that resulted in this action? Was it in response to a physical threat, or was there evidence that the detainee was psychologically distressed, and had to be restrained for his or her own welfare? And finally, does the incident, or the circumstances that surround it, warrant further investigation? With just the scant information provided by DIAC so far, it’s impossible to answer these questions.

I would like to know on what grounds this incident report was labeled a ‘minor disturbance’. The client is clearly in a significant amount of psychological distress and is manifesting physical symptoms (’shaking’) in addition to psychological symptoms (‘appeared unsettled’).

I think that this report needs more detail, specifically outlining the nature of the client’s distress; for example, what kind of visions has the client been having? How regularly are the visions occurring? What impact are the episodes having on the detainees’ day-to-day life? This would all be necessary information in deciding whether the client needs further psychological assistance. There is no mention of how the matter has been resolved, or of plans to follow up, or of whether a psychologist was or would become involved.

It appears to be reported almost as a benign religious or psychological quirk. Without more information, it’s hard to know if this was an appropriate response, or a negligent reaction to a very serious psychological episode.

July 1, 2013

On September 26, 2010,  a “client” of Northwest Point Immigration detention centre reported to a guard that he intended to hurt himself if his case for asylum was not reviewed soon. Apparently the “client” was quite specific:

The incident caught the attention of TGM reader May Rowe-Spencer, particularly when she found that exactly seven days later an incident of alleged self harm was lodged, at the same centre. She has put in requests for more detailed reports on both incidents via freedom of information (FOI) requests on the RightToKnow site. (More about that simple process here.) Here’s what she says about her finding:

What I hope to gain from the FOI:

— To know if it was the same person in both incidents.

— To know what staff did/if they could’ve done more/what procedures they’re supposed to follow.

— To know, most importantly, what “allegedly ingested a quantity of tablets” means. Overdose? Some vomiting but then fine? Did the detainee just tell someone he took the pills?

— But the little sequence stuck with me because the uncertainty made it more vivid. If it’s the same person, what happened during that week, that meant that that was the result? For the staff, aside from what they did — how did they cope, being told something like that? Or, considering how many threats of self-harm they get, do they somehow get used to it?

<p>The Global Mail</p>

The Global Mail

— And assuming it was the same person but that all ended well, and in conditions in which people do so many worse things to themselves, this particular incident seems somehow … less committed. Is this a semi-triumph of staff counselling — or of the intervention of friends or family — over the week? Some hope given in another way? Was it just that all (other) opportunities were removed? Was there more outrage or strategy than conviction in the first threat? The thing I found was that those possibilities, especially the last, forced me to realise how little I could extrapolate about this person whose name I didn’t even know — I couldn’t even just label it “despair” or “trauma” or “overwhelming pain” as I had done with other, seemingly more clear-cut incidents. Having it so obvious that I couldn’t know what had happened forced the complexity — and therefore the humanity — of it all fully into view.

Have you made an FOI request from this data? We’d love to know what you requested and why.

1 comment on this story
by David Reid

I have submitted a FoI request about "Incident 1-7AL08L". The information about this request published on Detention Logs is, "On 22nd May 2011 client [redacted] submitted a compliant letter that had allegations off assault and racial abuse."

I am interested to know more details about these allegations. I would also like to know if these allegations were investigated and what actions were taken against staff if these allegations were found to be true.

July 4, 2013 @ 4:55pm
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