Advocates and detainees say a woman’s body was found at Villawood detention centre on Sunday morning.
The New Zealand woman was found dead about 10.45am, shortly after a room search had been conducted by Serco officers. She is believed to have killed herself.
Guardian Australia has spoken to two detainees at Villawood – one of whom said she discovered the woman’s body.
“She was a beautiful woman. She was creative and caring,” one of the detainees said.
“We lose our minds – this is so much. This is too much to see.”
Guardian Australia has seen footage of what detainees claim is a covered body being taken out of the grounds of the detention centre on a stretcher about 5pm.
Detainees said the woman had mental health issues and had requested her medication be given to her earlier in the morning.
“She told me that she needs to have some medication at 8am in the morning but they’d give her medication like at 11am or 11.30am. And that makes her feel so bad,” one detainee said.
“She was telling us last night, ‘I want my story to be heard. I want the people to know what happened to me. I want to tell the people what these detention centres do to the people’.”
Ian Rintoul, a spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition, said he believed the woman had been in the detention centre for six months or so.
“It seems to be another example of people with serious mental health problems being held in detention without the sort of mental health care they need,” he said.
Rintoul said the woman’s death follows the suicide of an Iranian asylum seeker in March, along with a series of suicide attempts from detainees at the centre.
In April, an Iranian refugee attempted to end his life and there were two further serious suicide attempts by detainees in May, according to Rintoul.
It is believed the woman’s visa had been cancelled under section 501 of the Migration Act that has seen many New Zealanders deported.
Under section 501 of the Migration Act, the immigration minister can refuse or cancel visas on character grounds if someone has “a substantial criminal record” or has been sentenced to imprisonment for a period of 12 months or longer.
Rintoul said many “501s” are detained in immigration facilities for relatively trivial offences such as shoplifting or drug offences.
“I don’t believe that 501s – people who have done the crime, done their time – should be in immigration detention,” he said.
“Detention centres are now about 80% full with people who’ve had their visas cancelled and in particular, New Zealanders.”
Rintoul said there is an “epidemic” of suicide attempts in Villawood that requires a full investigation.
“The incoming Labor government is in a good position to hold the investigation into immigration detention that has long been needed,” he said.
Australia’s deportation of New Zealanders has been a source of friction between the two governments.
The incoming Labor government has indicated it will continue deportations under section 501 of the Migration Act but would be likely to adjust the ministerial direction to ensure decisions better take into account the time a person has been in Australia.
The proposal would aim to address the disproportionate impact of the policy on citizens from New Zealand, which has long argued it is “corrosive” to the relationship to deport people who have lived most of their lives in Australia.
New Zealand’s foreign minister, Nanaia Mahuta, said in February the country was “concerned that Australia continues to send people to New Zealand who have never lived here and have no family or support networks at all”.
Australian Border Force refused to comment on the matter when contacted by Guardian Australia.