A man in immigration detention has been repeatedly handcuffed to be taken to medical appointments for ailments that doctors suggest are caused by the handcuffing itself.
Nauroze Anees, a 32-year-old Pakistani man currently held in Sydney’s Villawood immigration detention centre, has had chronic chest pain for the past year, and numbness and tingling in two fingers on his left hand for the past three and a half years.
Doctors have suggested both problems may have been caused by handcuffing.
But despite doctors’ recommendations, Australian Border Force and contractor Serco have continued to handcuff Anees as they transport him to further medical appointments.
“I’m in extreme pain while handcuffed,” Anees told BuzzFeed News.
He said that handcuffs made him feel “dehumanised” and that he felt humiliated when people saw him restrained and accompanied by guards when he attends hospital. “God knows what assumptions they make about me,” he said.
His discomfort has caused him to miss medical appointments because guards have told him he either has to be handcuffed or not go at all, Anees said.
In a complaint to the Human Rights Commission, he said that he missed a recent appointment with a mental health practitioner “because Serco wanted to handcuff and humiliate me as a condition for me to get medical help”.
Medical reports seen by BuzzFeed News record that Anees has told multiple doctors that his chest pain — a chronic pain on the left side of his ribcage — started after he spent nearly 20 hours handcuffed on a plane when he was being transported between detention centres.
He has described it as an “exploding” or “stabbing” pain and told doctors it interferes with his sleep.
A Perth GP who saw Anees in April concluded that the pain was probably a musculoskeletal problem, bolstered by the fact that the symptoms started soon after the plane journey. The GP saw Anees at Perth’s immigration detention centre, where he complained he was not able to undertake a thorough physical examination.
When he saw Anees the next month, a Perth gastroenterologist also said he suspected the pain was musculoskeletal in origin. He recommended that if possible Anees should not be put in the same position — “crouch position...handcuffed behind” — if he is again transferred by plane.
A Sydney neurologist who saw Anees in late October concluded that he was suffering from neuritis and carpal tunnel syndrome in his left hand. “I agree that continuous handcuffing will worsen [those conditions]”, the specialist wrote in a report.
But when Anees went to Liverpool Hospital for nuclear imaging on Nov. 1, on the neurologist’s referral, he was again handcuffed. He was only relieved from the restraints while tests were conducted, after his complaints led the doctor to intervene with the guard accompanying him, Anees said.
Detention health providers, the International Health and Medical Service, has recommended to Australian Border Force that Anees not be handcuffed, but that advice has been ignored, Anees said.
While guards stopped restraining him for a while, the handcuffing resumed in July. Since arriving in Sydney, he has been handcuffed for three medical visits, but not for two other visits to a pain specialist and to get an MRI.
“It’s absolutely arbitrary,” he said. “I maintain that this is a practice used to punish me because I speak out.”
Anees has previously made public accusations of government corruption and assault by guards in detention. A Border Force spokesperson told BuzzFeed News they strongly refute claims that any detainee is punished for raising concerns or engaging with the media.
The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has reported that use of restraints appears to be routine during transfers between detention centres, and during escorts to medical and court appointments. Detainees told the AHRC during site visits in 2017 and 2018 that they had been made to sign a form saying they had refused medical treatment after they said they did not want to be handcuffed to go to appointments.
In a May 2019 report the AHRC told the story of a man who was handcuffed for 8.5 hours over a deep wrist wound while he was transported from Sydney to Perth. The report concluded this was a breach of his human rights.
The AHRC has recommended the Department of Home Affairs review its policies and practices regarding restraints.
Anees has spent the past three years in detention, being shuttled between centres in Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane and Sydney and on Christmas Island. He has been held in Villawood since August.
He told BuzzFeed News that when he was transferred between detention centres, he would be put on a charter plane with other detainees for many hours as the plane stopped in other capital cities to pick up and drop off detainees and refuel.
He described being woken at 3am for one journey from Melbourne to Christmas Island that included stops in Sydney, Brisbane, Darwin and Perth. His handcuffs were not removed to use the bathroom or to eat, he said.
The Border Force spokesperson said that they may approve the use of restraints to transfer detainees "where risk assessments indicate the need for restraints is appropriate and proportionate to the identified risk."
The spokesperson said each request is considered on a case-by-case basis, and relevant medical information is taking into consideration. Border Force said it immediately inspects people who have been handcuffed for signs of injury once they have been removed, and that everyone who is handcuffed is medically reviewed afterwards.
"Any use of force in immigration detention, including the application of restraints, is subject to stringent reporting requirements and internal and external oversight processes to ensure force is not applied arbitrarily, or against policy or law," the spokesperson said.
Anees suffers from a range of other medical issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
He came to Australia in 2007 on a student visa, but dropped out of his course after meeting his partner, a Melbourne woman who suffers from a serious mental health condition.
“I fell head over heels in love with her,” he said. “It’s not that I had to care for her, I loved caring for her.”
After becoming her full-time carer, he lost his job and became homeless when his partner was hospitalised. He committed several lower-level offences over the next few years, including the theft of bedsheets and clothing, possession of a knife, and recklessly causing injury, which he said was done in defence of his partner. He spent three months in prison in 2011.
Anees then got stable employment and accommodation, and has not offended since January 2013.
In 2016 he was taken into detention, and has only spent a short time in Melbourne, where his partner lives. He is in the midst of a Federal Court appeal over his visa application.
He said he has not threatened or committed violence while in detention.
Reports from a psychologist seen by BuzzFeed News conclude that he is at an “extremely low risk” of re-offending, and that his ongoing detention is exacerbating his mental health problems. A psychiatrist recommended in August 2019 that the department consider alternatives to detention that are less restrictive and closer to his partner.
Anees has made a formal complaint to the AHRC regarding his handcuffing. The investigation is ongoing.