The case of Cornelia Rau – a mentally ill Australian woman, listed as a missing person, but kept in an isolation unit in immigration detention for months – has rightly generated a lot of comment. Some commentary on other sites include at Troppo Armadillo and Dogfight at Bankstown.
People such as myself who have long criticised mandatory detention and all its consequences will use this occurence to back our case about the intrinsic inhumanity and absence of basic rights entrenched by this system.
However, even for those who might see this as a tragic one-off with no real implications for detention policy, some other very big questions must be independently examined and answered:
How competent is our missing-person system when the person who is reported as missing comes to be in official hands (Qld Police and then DIMIA) and yet is not matched-up with the report?
What sort of mental health assessment system do we have in prisons and detention centres when someone who appears to have been so clearly mentally ill is found not to be? Is it just because she had already been labelled an ‘illegal immigrant’? Given that the main mental health assessment that ‘cleared’ her appears to have been done before she was put into Baxter, does this show that her treatment and environment in Baxter made her condition worse? Why is it that the minute she was released into the care of the Glenside (SA Govt) Psychiatric Hospital she was described as severely ill, yet according to Vanstone prior to that she was not suffering a mental illness.
There may also be questions German citizens want to ask about how thoroughly their Embassy followed up the reports of the ‘mystery’ allegedly German woman locked up in detention.
I had hoped to raise this situation with DIMIA officials or Baxter centre management while I was visiting there last week, but for the first time in my many visits to detention centres, my request for a meeting was not accepted. Some of the asylum seekers in detention mentioned her, which was consistent with previous reports they had provided to others.
The asylum seekers in detention must be given the opportunity to publicly detail the treatment they witnessed of this woman, without fear of retribution. Were it not for them, Cornelia Rau would certainly still be in an isolation unit in detention, receiving inadequate (or probably harmful) treatment.