A MELBOURNE woman who worked at the Nauru detention centre has described it as ''horrific and appalling'', as claims emerge from refugee advocates and an asylum seeker that five detainees have attempted suicide in the past two weeks.
Aid worker Brett Louise Woods returned to Australia last month after 2½ weeks at Nauru. The first worker to speak out about conditions there, she was appalled by the facilities, saying detainees had no legal representation and were ''psychologically traumatised'' because there was ''no end in sight''.
An asylum seeker at the Nauru processing centre said he had witnessed two attempted suicides. He said detainees and guards cut down one man who tried to hang himself. Another man tried to cut his own throat. He said the two were now being held in tents ''like mad people''.
The Iranian detainee said the men were under constant surveillance. ''The officers have to be there all the time because otherwise they will take the opportunity to go and suicide,'' he said by phone. ''People are becoming crazy. There is no hope here.''
Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition said conditions on the island were at a low and there had been five suicide attempts in the past two weeks. The Immigration Department confirmed there had been a ''handful of self-harm incidents''. It refused to comment on reports that two asylum seekers remain under 24-hour suicide watch.
Mr Rintoul said 300 detainees were not eating, with up to 50 also refusing water. He said about 80 were taken to the sick bay last week, and most put on glucose drips. ''One Iranian man who has not eaten for 29 days was told by doctors that he risks organ failure,'' Mr Rintoul said.
Ms Woods fears for the asylum seekers' mental health. ''They're saying they will continue this hunger strike until they die because they feel powerless and trapped''. She described shade from soaring temperatures as inadequate, and said some people were unable to contact their families.
At the end of last week 390 detainees had been transferred to the centre, which is fast approaching its capacity of 500. Detainees live in tents with the Immigration Department yet to confirm completion dates for buildings.
As a hunger strike enters its 11th day the Immigration Department confirmed about 30 asylum seekers were treated for dehydration and heat-exhaustion symptoms last week
The department said the number of detainees reported as being on hunger strikes was ''incorrect''. A spokesman said at least 200 meals were being claimed at meal times.
The asylum seeker who spoke to The Sunday Age said: ''Most people are not eating now and 15 or 20 are collapsing every day … there isn't any good medical services and the situation is very, very bad.''