The case of an intellectually disabled asylum seeker

To read on The Guardian (Australia) website, an article of last December:

Morrison advised to move intellectually disabled asylum seeker into community

Immigration minister announces asylum seeker will be reunited with her family in community detention after scrutiny into case

The woman with severe intellectual disabilities arrived on Christmas Island in late July before being moved to Perth when her state declined. Photograph: AAP

An asylum seeker with severe intellectual disabilities who was separated from her mother will be moved into community detention.

The immigration minister, Scott Morrison, has announced the woman, aged in her 30s, will be placed in community detention and reunited with her family, after the minister received advice this was the “best course of action” for her care.

But Morrison warned that there were “no exemptions to the government’s policy of offshore processing” and the decision to detain the family in the community did not reflect a decision about how their asylum claims, or those of others, would be processed.

The decision comes amid intense scrutiny of the level of medical care afforded to asylum seekers. Guardian Australia last week revealed details of a 92-page letter of concern signed by 15 doctors involved in work on Christmas Island. The report documents “numerous unsafe practices and gross departures from generally accepted medical standards which have posed significant risk to patients and caused considerable harm.”

Health dangers arising from a complicated and inadequate IT system are among concerns highlighted on Monday. The letter says asylum seekers who arrive by boat to Christmas Island have their essential medication and medical records discarded on arrival without being recorded by doctors. The letter also says asylum seekers can spend hours queuing for each dose of their medication every day, because they are not allowed to self-administer.

Guardian Australia has been told the woman with severe intellectual disabilities arrived on Christmas Island in late July. Advocates representing the woman said her medication including sodium valproate, which is used to treat epilepsy, was confiscated on arrival and has not been replaced.

The woman was moved to Perth Immigration Detention Centre, where she was with her father, after her state declined severely.

Victoria Martin-Iverson of the Refugee Rights Action Network told Guardian Australia the woman had a mental age of about five. Martin-Iverson said the woman was calling: “I want my mummy, I want my mummy” and had been lifting her clothing and exposing herself to other detainees. This behaviour raised concerns she may be vulnerable to sexual assault.

In a statement issued on Monday, Morrison said he was taking action after his department reviewed the report of a psychiatric assessment conducted by Professor Nicholas Procter and handed to the department on Friday.

“In response to this report my department has recommended that placing the family in community detention is the best course of action for the care of the intellectually disabled woman. I have agreed with this recommendation and will be issuing a residence determination order to enable the family to be placed in the community. Once I sign the order, arrangements will be made to reunite the family and place them in community detention,” Morrison said.

He said the woman’s mother and three other siblings were currently on Christmas Island. “I anticipate that a community detention placement can be arranged within a fortnight of signing the order and this process will be underway tomorrow.”

Morrison said the decision was “specific to the facts of this case alone” and did not signal a weakening of the government’s “no exemptions” policy of offshore processing of asylum claims. He said the decision to place the family in community detention did “not translate into a decision regarding how or under what jurisdiction any claims they may have will be processed”.

“This matter will be considered at a later time. Today’s decision is based on meeting the immediate health and welfare needs of the intellectually disabled woman,” Morrison said.

The minister sought to use the case to reiterate his view that asylum seekers must be deterred from taking dangerous boat journeys to Australia.

“The fact that a severely intellectually disabled woman was placed on a boat where even in the event of a mild incident at sea the woman would have been at great risk, is appalling and highlights why continued strong action is required from the government to remove any possible incentive for such appalling acts being repeated,” Morrison said.

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