Effects Of Prolonged Detention On Refugees

“The policy of detention of asylum seekers as it currently operates in Australia contravenes international human rights law with respect to the detention of asylum seekers.”

Anthony Reilly, Detention of Asylum Seekers – A Questionable Policy, published by the Australian Institute of Criminology, 1995


Article 31 of the Convention (on international human rights) gives the specifics of why Australia breeches this act. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has repeatedly expressed concern at the practice of prolonged detention of asylum seekers, as practiced by Australia. (My comments)

“Australia is the only Western country in the world to mandate detention indiscriminately for all individuals entering the country without valid visas. According to the 1958 Australian Migration Act, all persons within Australia must be detained if they do not possess either a valid visa or Australian citizenship. The law has meant that Australia has been able to legally and indiscriminately detain all men, women and children, whether they be sick, pregnant or elderly.”

“The trauma experienced by asylum seekers before they arrive in Australia is further exacerbated by being placed in these detention centres.”

“Patrick McGorry, mental health specialist and Australian of the Year, also conveyed his concern about the detrimental impacts of detention on mental health when he described the detention centres as “factories for producing mental illness and mental disorder”. Furthermore, there is overwhelming evidence that demonstrates the psychological harms that long-term incarceration in Australia’s immigration detention centres has caused, including completed suicide and self-mutilation.”

What’s Wrong With Detention posted by Kon, CEO ASRC,2010

“Some of the problems suffered by children in detention include anxiety, distress, bed-wetting, suicidal ideation and self-destructive behaviour including attempted and actual self-harm. Furthermore, the primary records revealed that in a smaller number of cases children had been diagnosed with specific psychiatric illnesses such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The records showed that either the cause or the severity of these disorders could be linked to the children’s ongoing detention.” (emphasis mine)

“The UNHCR Guidelines on Refugee Children note the negative impact that refugee centres or camps can have on the mental health of children and their families: ‘Extended residence in a camp may lead to extremes of behaviour in children who may become either passive and submissive or aggressive and violent’.”

“Lifetime assessment of psychiatric morbidity (a 2003 report regarding asylum seekers and their children in a remote Australian detention centre – explanation mine), indicated that there was little psychopathology amongst the children prior to arrival in Australia. One child who had witnessed severe domestic violence in Iran had multiple previous disorders. In contrast at the time of assessment, after having spent in excess of two years in detention, all children were diagnosed with at least one psychiatric disorder and most (16, 80%) were diagnosed with multiple disorders, representing a 10-fold increase in the total number of diagnoses identified.(53)”

“…the traumatic nature of the detention experience has out-stripped any previous trauma that the children have had. So it has got to the point where being in detention is the worst thing that has ever happened to these children.(55)”

“A psychologist who worked at Woomera from September 2000 to January 2002 set out the various phases of detention:

‘Family roles break down significantly. We actually started time-lining the breakdown of individuals. We classify the first three months as being a state of euphoria, hope, dreams. The next three months, as they are going through all of their interviews and there is anxiety starting to build up. After six months we start to see a deterioration in the emotional and psychological well-being of individuals, a significant start in the increase of self-harm. Be it hunger strikes, emotional anxiety, psychological disturbances developing, increased requests for assistance for sleep, which is an indication of depression, medication for depression, more active involvement in disturbances and in self-harm. So, yes, I have seen people age on a daily basis. I have seen middle aged men become old men in months.(64)’” (emphasis mine)

“Parental depression often meant that they lost the interest and ability to keep a constant watch on their children. This exposed children to the risk of assault. In August 2002, DHS noted that: ‘Some staff have been critical of those parents who do not attempt to control their children’s behaviour. However, other officers have said that many of these parents used to be more effective but are now (due to depression and lethargy) unable rather than unwilling to supervise their children in the compound’”.(83)

“The longer that families are in detention, the further the capacity of parents to care for their children is compromised.(84)”

Mental Health of Children in Immigration Detention, National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention, Australian Human Rights Commission, 2004

“Factors such as increasing processing time, increased rates of return, limited support and explanations of bewildering legal process all contribute to anxiety, confusion and ultimately despair. Self-harming, protest and behavioural break down are not at all surprising in these circumstances.”

“The fair go and welcoming nation is not one which readily accepts that it has policies which cause severe psychological damage. This is a significant moral crisis for Australian politics (emphasis mine) and deserves a good deal more reflective discussion – a rethinking of values and dealing with conscience and collective responsibility.”

Mandatory detention of asylum seekers is harming people and “demeans us all”: quoting leading psychiatrist Professor Louise Newman, published in Crikey by Melissa Sweet, 2011

“A number of stakeholders, including the Refugee Council of Australia, have expressed significant concerns over the levels of unrest in response to lengthy detention periods and the effects it may have on detainees.[149] In 2011, Australia’s leading health organisations, including the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists and the Australian Medical Association (AMA) demanded an urgent review of Government policy and detention conditions:

Over 30 key health and mental health organisations and mental health advocates are demanding the Government urgently review the standards of mental health care in all immigration detention centres. This issue is urgent and action needs to be taken now … It is clear that conditions inside detention centres are unacceptable. Children are especially vulnerable. The mental health crisis in the immigration detention system is rapidly worsening (emphasis mine) and these conditions cannot be allowed to continue.”

“…(some of the… – my insert) arguments include:

*…the negative effects of lengthy detention are damaging long-term (particularly in terms of mental health) for the individuals concerned and could be avoided through shorter detention periods or detention alternatives.[166] In addition, between 2000 and 2010 (as at 31 March 2010) the Commonwealth had paid out over $12 million in compensation for alleged injury or wrongful detention to individuals.[167]”

*…as the majority of boat arrivals in the past have been found to be refugees, the negative effects of long term detention are counter-productive. These detrimental effects mean that it may take much longer for those concerned to recover and begin to contribute to Australian society; and it reflects unfavourably on Australian refugee policy both nationally and internationally (emphasis mine).[168]

“While it is Australian Government policy to only detain unauthorised boat arrivals while they complete health, character and security checks and their immigration status is resolved, in practice many asylum seekers have experienced prolonged periods of detention in the past.”

Immigration detention in Australia, Janet Phillips and Harriet Spinks, Social Policy Section, Parliament of Australia, Updated 20 March 2013

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