Legal action being taken to stop 5yo asylum seeker with PTSD in Wickham Point detention centre being returned to Nauru.

Trigger warning: This post deals with self-harm and possible child sex abuse, and may be triggering for some readers.

A five-year-old asylum seeker in a Darwin detention centre is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and has been prescribed anti-depressants amid fears she may be sent back to Nauru, a Darwin lawyer says.

The Iranian girl drew an image of a stick-figure person with its lips sewn shut and displayed inappropriate sexual behaviour because of what she has seen or experienced while in detention in Nauru, lawyer John Lawrence said.

Drawing by asylum seeker child at Wickham Point. The drew an image of a stick-figure person with its lips sewn shut and displayed inappropriate sexual behaviour because of what she has seen or experienced while in detention in Nauru, lawyer John Lawrence said. (Image supplied to ABC News)

Mr Lawrence is taking legal action to prevent the girl and her family being sent back to Nauru.

He said she has been with her parents at Darwin’s Wickham Point Detention Centre since October, after they were transferred from Nauru to Australia because her father needed urgent medical treatment.

The family had been on Nauru for more than a year and were told they would be returned there once the treatment was completed, Mr Lawrence said.

Related: Sarah Hanson-Young: “No child should be exposed to these horrific conditions.” 

The ABC has seen a medical report, completed in Darwin, assessing the girl.

It records her fear of returning to Nauru, as well as a diagnosis of PTSD and anxiety.

“This child should not be sent back to Nauru as she continues with a significant PTSD syndrome to the exposure to traumatic events during her previous stay, with ongoing severe anxiety symptoms, and risk of self-harm,” it said.

The report also records the prescribing of anti-depressant medication to the girl.

It said she was “still talking of hurting herself as per previous threats, parents are worried about when she is on her own at school, that she could hurt herself”.

Mr Lawrence said he was also concerned about the possibility of abuse at Nauru.

“I have medical material relating to this five-year-old girl, which informs me that she is displaying inappropriate sexualised behaviour, as a consequence of experiences that she has either seen or experienced directly or indirectly, on Nauru,” he said.

Family desperate to avoid return to Nauru

Mr Lawrence said when he visited the girl on the weekend, he took a colouring book and asked her to write her name.

“She writes her name, it is CAV 020 … the boat number which she comes into the country with,” he said.


“That is her designation now.”

Mr Lawrence said he had asked the girl about Nauru.

“She said she is scared. I [asked] her to do a drawing … the drawing depicts a figure, which has stitched lips together in red crayon,” he said.

Mr Lawrence said the family had given their permission for the girl’s story to be made public, because they were desperate not to be returned to Nauru.

“She is a five-year-old girl, and five-year-old girls do not go to jail, never mind an unsafe dangerous dump, which is what Nauru is,” he said.

“This is obscene, this is an Australian obscenity, and not only are we paying for it, we are committing it.”

Related: Immigration Department aware of sexual abuse allegations against children for 17 months but failed to act, say former NAURU workers. 

Mr Lawrence said the girl’s family are growing more desperate to stay in Australia.

“Our Government’s plan for that young girl [is] to be returned to where she has come from, having already spent over one year in a jail facility which would be unsafe for an adult male Australian criminal,” he said.

Mr Lawrence said he had begun court action against the Department of Immigration and Border Protection to stop the family’s forced return.

Darwin asylum seeker advocate and barrister John Lawrence (ABC news: Ruby Jones)

“That is why we are injuncting [sic] the Department of Immigration, to prevent this happening, and we are also seeking a remedy that she be released, with her parents, and put into the custody — via a community visa — of uncles who live in Sydney.”

Related: The most catastrophic maritime tragedy since WWII”. Up to 700 feared dead as asylum seeker ship capsizes. 

In a statement, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection said “persons brought to Australia from a Regional Processing Centre (RPC) for medical reasons are clearly informed and clearly know that they will be returned to the RPC to continue their refugee assessment and processing”.

“Those who are subject to regional processing arrangements will have their claims assessed in that way and will never be settled in Australia.

“The department does not comment on transfer arrangements of individuals.”

This post originally appeared on ABC and was republished here with full permission.

If this post brings up issues for you, or you just need someone to talk to, please call Lifeline on 131 114.

You can also visit or call 1800 272 831.  Bravehearts offers counselling, education and case management services for Australian children affected by sexual assault.