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Refugees in detention subject to body search more than the once-a-month agreement.

Updated: Jun 8, 2021

Ellie* is one of many refugees being detained in Australia who has been subject to room searches five times in one month.

When SERCO workers are questioned about the excessive room searches, which include invasive body searches on arrival, Ellie's told she needs to write a letter of complaint. If she does complain, this goes on her record and 10 points are deducted from her total points to spend in the canteen on things like phone credit.

“I feel so angry and violated,” Ellie says.

“The guards know of my mental health issues, yet they continue to search my body with no consideration of my health.

“I feel like I’m being sexual abused each time. I’m tired. I have nothing and these SERCO workers continue to touch my body without my consent.”

Ellie began her journey to Australia from Iran in 2013, before she was detained by the Australian Government in Christmas Island and then transferred to Nauru.

In 2019, she was transferred to Australia for medical treatment, as directed by her doctors in Nauru. She was then encouraged by a caseworker for the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) to sign an agreement to be placed under Medevac, so as to prevent her from being returned to Nauru.

“All I keep thinking is, I’m breathing,” Ellie says.

“I’m being held in indefinite detention; without the medical treatment, I came here for and now the government has brought convicted criminals, finishing their sentence, to live in the same space as us.

“I am not a criminal. I shouldn’t be treated like one and I shouldn’t be living with criminals.

“They fight, swear and argue a lot and I no longer go out of my room for fear of being picked on and harassed.

“I don’t feel safe living in these circumstances and the stress of it all adds to my growing anxiety.

“On top of that, I found out that fake reports had been written against us by SERCO Officers. They were investigated and have been sacked, but I’d like to know who they were and what they said.”

Ellie has worked with several lawyers through the ASRC, who say they are waiting to hear from the Immigration Department, but she questions if this kind of support is worth the agonising wait to hear news from them.

“Some refugees have had no support from caseworkers and lawyers and they’ve been released into the community.

“What’s the point of having a caseworker or lawyer? I think that some organisations are using us for their own benefit to continue making money.

“The longer I’m locked up, now with criminals, the more my mind becomes grey. I feel like I’m becoming crazy.

“I live with my partner of five years and we do our best to support one another, but he has his own health issues too.

“Speaking out about what is happening to me in this place is helping me to get through the days.

“My friend, who is being held in another detention centre is helping me to raise my voice, and I must say that it’s a good feeling to be listened to.”

Ellie recently rejected a room search after SERCO workers woke her up to conduct a room search, for the fifth time in one month.

She continues to fight for her rights for the eighth year in a row as the Australian government, and those working indirectly with the government, exert their power to control and profit from her life and the lives of the many other people being held in onshore and offshore detention.


Sign the open letter to the minister of home affairs.

*Name has been changed to protect the person’s identity

Written by Rachael Hakim and Ellie.

Woman stands in front of high fence, holding a sign that reads, '8 year I've lived in indefinite detention. Whole of my life is in the hands of the immigration minister. Why don't you want to hear me?'
Ellie wonders what help organisations really are to her cause while she watches others around her being released into the community.

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