The plight of an isolated Somali refugee recovering from severe self-inflicted burn wounds in a Brisbane hospital provides a “test of whether we are a civil society”, Queensland’s anti-discrimination commissioner has said.
Professionals have raised concerns that Hodan Yasin, who suffered burns to 70% of her body and lost some fingers after setting herself alight inside Nauru detention centre, has been denied basic levels of social support over nearly five months of treatment.
They include the denial of a visit by a representative of refugee welfare services provider Connect Settlement Services, a lack of facilitated visits by representatives of the local Somali community, and no engagement of Queensland’s only specialist trauma counselling service for refugees in detention.
Guardian Australia understands Yasin’s only regular social contact in her native language is with interpreters liaising with medical staff or the Red Cross, which is providing some counselling to the non-English-speaking Muslim woman.
Her mother was initially unable to receive updates on her condition via local community representatives, who, despite being approached by immigration department officials about providing moral support soon after Yasin’s arrival in Brisbane in May, are yet to be cleared for visits. She has since been in direct contact with her mother and been visited by one member of the local Somali community.
Weekly visits by a spiritual leader and two cultural workers – as well as the transfer of a Somali nurse within the Royal Brisbane and Women’s hospital to the burns ward – were also raised with officials but have not transpired.
Yasin, 21, has received two visits by an imam from Moorooka mosque, most recently during Ramadan several months ago.
The Queensland Program of Assistance for Survivors of Torture and Trauma, which routinely receives referrals to counsel refugees in detention, confirmed it had not been referred in this case.
Kevin Cocks, the Queensland anti-discrimination commissioner said: “If these allegations are true, then this is not a matter of border protection. This is a matter of humanity, this is a test of whether we are a civil society.”
“The law of reciprocity is the principle of treating others as one would wish to be treated oneself.
“I ask my fellow Queenslanders and Australians: would you want your daughter, sister, brother, mother or father if seriously injured and in hospital on a foreign land to be isolated and denied support from family and the Australian community in that country?”
The self-immolation of Yasin came days after the death of Iranian Omid Masoumali, who also set himself on fire in front of United Nations officials visiting Nauru.
The incidents prompted the immigration minister, Peter Dutton, to accuse asylum advocates of encouraging self-harm by detainees “believing that that pressure exerted on the Australian government will see a change in our policy in relation to our border protection measures”.
Hussein Ahmed, the chairman of the United Somali Association of Queensland, said senior departmental officials had discussed access visits soon after Yasin’s admission but cited concerns about her vulnerability to infection.
“The way they put it was they were very happy for us to give moral support but at the time it was not for her benefit due to her vulnerability,” he said.
“They would let us know when it’s the right time for community to support her emotional and psychological wellbeing.”
Ahmed said he had not received any advice from the department since.
A spokesman for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection said Yasin had “received an exceptional level of medical care at every stage” and continued to receive “intensive treatment and support”.
“The department takes advice from medical experts about restrictions on visitors, based on the condition of the patient and risk of infection,” he said.
“Any staffing or counselling decision regarding patient care remain those of the treating hospital.”
The spokesman said the department had been in “regular contact with a Somali community leader close to Ms Yasin and has engaged with wider Somali community in Australia”.
While the department “carefully considers proposed visits of a compassionate nature”, it had not received any visa application from Yasin’s mother or other family members, he said.
Any visitors would have to satisfy Australia’s visa requirements, “including health, character and genuine temporary stay requirements”.