Statement on Asylum Seekers in Detention
The Board of the Australian Clinical Psychology Association, on behalf of its members, requests that the Australian Government immediately guarantees the mental health and well-being of asylum seekers and refugees by ending policies that require their indefinite detention.
As clinical psychologists, we shed light on the unacceptable damage to the mental health of those who are subject to prolonged immigration detention. Prolonged, indeterminate detention of asylum seekers in immigration detention centres violates basic human rights and adversely affects physical, psychological, emotional and developmental health through a variety of compounding mechanisms (1). These include, but are not limited to, profound uncertainty, stress, social isolation, separation from and fear for family, exposure to unacceptable levels of violence in detention centres, exposure in close confinement to people suffering from extreme mental distress, hopelessness, lack of freedom of movement or freedom from being supervised or watched at all times, lack of access to education and meaningful activity, unsuitable and unsafe infrastructure and resources, insufficient access to appropriate healthcare, and frequent relocations between detention centres (2-5).
It is now well established through research, clinical evidence and public awareness that prolonged immigration detention in the Australian context has catastrophic effects on the health and well-being of asylum seekers (e.g., 1-3, 6-8). Findings from the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention, including reports from independent internationally recognised medical experts, demonstrate that prolonged detention is clearly and unequivocally a cause of “extreme physical, emotional, psychological and developmental distress for people living in immigration detention centres” (2). Parents, children, and unaccompanied minors are particularly vulnerable. Evidence shows that immigration detention centres are dangerous environments for children; with numerous reported incidents of assaults, sexual assault and self-harm involving children, and markedly higher rates of mental health disorders than children in the general Australian community (2). Pre-school aged children demonstrate marked developmental delay and emotional or behavioural disturbances, and young children and adolescents experience depression, anxiety and trauma-related disorders as well as detrimental impacts to learning, academic progress and cognitive development (2, 3, 9).
According to our professional code of conduct, psychologists “demonstrate their respect for people by acknowledging their legal rights and moral rights, their dignity and right to participate in decisions affecting their lives” (10). It is therefore our professional, ethical and moral obligation to promote positive mental well-being, advocate for dignity and personal autonomy, and protect people from harm. In this instance, we reference the adults, children and families being indeterminately detained in Australian immigration detention centres, including those detained on Nauru and Manus Island.
We call for an immediate end to the indefinite detention of asylum seekers and refugees and amendment to policies that require indefinite detention of asylum seekers and refugees. Further, given the exacerbation of trauma symptoms and extreme strain placed on family units in immigration detention, we ask that the government provide and fund access to culturally sensitive, trauma-informed, and developmentally appropriate mental health treatment that can support family functioning, trauma recovery and development of positive mental health among children and adults, and family units. Trauma recovery relies upon environmental conditions that are experienced as safe, consistent, and calm. Thus, it is essential that following release from detention, families have access to safe and stable housing, access to healthcare and education, and have the ability to make decisions in the best interest of their families. Seeking asylum and access to health care is a human right, and those fleeing persecution require our compassion and respect.
- Procter, N.G., De Leo, D., &, Newman, L. (2013). Suicide and self-harm prevention for people in immigration detention. The Medical Journal of Australia, 199(11): 730 –
- Australian Human Rights Commission. (2014). The Forgotten Children: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention. Sydney: AHRC 2014. Retrieved at: http://www.humanrights.gov.au/our-work/asylum-seekers-and- refugees/publications/forgotten-children-national-inquiry-children (accessed 23 August 2018).
- Australian Human Rights Commission. (2017). Asylum seekers, refugees and human rights: Snapshot report (2nd). Retrieved at: https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/document/publication/AHRC_Snapshot
%20report_2nd%20edition_2017_WEB.pdf (accessed August 26 2018).
- Commonwealth and Immigration Ombudsman (2013). Suicide and self-harm in the immigration detention network. Retrieved at:
- Goosen, S., Stronski, K. & Kunst, A. (2014). Frequent relocations between asylum-seeker centres are associated with mental distress in asylum-seeking children: a longitudinal medical record study. International Journal of Epidemiology, 43 (1): 94-104.
- Deans, A.K., Boerma, C.J., Fordyce, J., De Souza, M., Palmer, D.J., & Davis, J.S. (2013). Use of Royal Darwin Hospital emergency department by immigration detainees in 2011. Medical Journal of Australia, 199(11): 776-8.
- Dudley, M., Steel, Z., Mares, S., & Newman, L. (2012). Children and young people in immigration detention. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 25, 285-292.
- Green, J. & Eagar, K. The health of people in immigration detention centres. Medical Journal of Australia, 192, 65-70.
- Mares, S., & Jureidini, J. (2012). Child and adolescent refugees and asylum seekers in Australia: the ethics of exposing children to suffering to achieve social outcomes. In M. Dudley, D. Silove, & F. Gale (Eds.), Mental Health and Human Rights Vision, praxis, and courage (pp. 403-414). Oxford: Oxford University
- Australian Psychological Society (2007). Code of Ethics. Retrieved at: https://www.psychology.org.au/getmedia/d873e0db-7490-46de-bb57-c31bb1553025/APS- Code-of-Ethics.pdf (accessed 27 August 2018)