Detainees gagged and sedated for deportation

Immigration detainees are being forcibly sedated so they can be deported from Australia. The NSWNA warns that nurses may be pressured to partake in this highly illegal practice.

Perhaps the last thing you would expect on a public flight overseas is the sight of an immigration detainee restrained with handcuffs, gagged and forcibly sedated so they can be deported from Australia.

But according to accounts from passengers, refugee advocacy groups, detention centre staff, and the detainees themselves, the forcible sedation of detainees has been a regular practice of the Department Immigration and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA) since 2000.

Of the seven forced deportations by DIMIA this year, four have been conducted using sedative restraints, claims the Refugee Action Coalition.

According the NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes, the forced sedation and other practices that violate the human rights of immigration detainees are a great concern to nurses and the Association.

Following a request from the NSWNA Committee of Delegates, the NSWNA has developed a policy for the non-consensual administration of medication to immigration detainees, based on legal advice clarifying that it is an illegal act for nurses to forcibly sedate detainees so they can be deported.

‘The advice we have received indicates that this practice constitutes an illegal act. The non-consensual administration of medication to detainees is only legal if the detainee’s life or health is at serious risk and, if this were the case, it would be unlikely that that a detainee would be in a reasonable state to be deported,’ said Brett.

‘The NSWNA is unaware of any members who have forcibly sedated detainees but we are concerned that members may be pressured by detention centre management to engage in this practice.’

Matina Pentes worked as an RN at Villawood Detention Centre between 2001 and 2004. ‘I think that in the beginning nurses in detention centres were directed to do things they felt were in contravention to their professional and personal code of ethics. It was as though if the Australian government was asking them to do this, then it must be OK,’
she said

‘As time passed, nurses started saying “no”, they started to challenge some of the practices. Some left, some stayed and tried to change things.

‘By the time I went to work at Villawood, we had a Health Services Manager who was clear about human rights and we had Medical Officers who refused to prescribe sedation for detainees who were being deported,’ said Matina.

‘I never personally saw any nurses forcibly sedate a detainee so they could be repatriated but we understood that it had happened in the past and believed that it continued to happen in some other Centres. And it had to be a doctor or nurse giving the injection,’ she said. ‘On the whole, the nurses I worked with were opposed to any practice that violated the human rights of detainees.’

Brett Holmes said, ‘Protecting our members is a priority of the NSWNA and we strongly advise them that participating in the non-consensual administration of medication to immigration detainees would constitute an illegal act.’

Members should contact the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) if they are approached by detention centre management to forcibly administer medication to detainees for the purpose of deportation.

‘TAKE THE TABLETS OR BE JABBED’

Last December, Abdlmonein Khogali was told he had the option of taking five tranquilliser tablets or being forcibly injected before his deportation to Sudan, according to his testimony provided to the Refugee Action Coalition.

‘They got me on the airplane with a wheelchair accompanied by a nurse, two companions and three other ACM officers. All that continued for about five to six hours with three types of handcuffs and ties of leather, plastic and steel around my hands and belly that gathered my arms to my trunk.

‘[Later] the nurse on trying to inject in my leg missed my body to hit the plane seat where the needle got bent. But he didn’t change the needle and injected me again with the contaminated, bent needle in a completely odd side on my leg, immediately above my left knee,’ said Abdlmonein.

The interjection of passengers aborted this attempted deportation and saw Abdlmonein returned to the dentention centre. He was finally deported to Sudan in January 2005.