May 29, 2014

Inside Manus Island: asylum seekers’ mental state ‘unravelling’ in indefinite detention

Held in offshore detention centres without hope or information about when or if they will ever be released, asylum seekers are experiencing severe psychological distress, new documents reveal. Bec Zajac, Chris Shearer, Michael Roddan and Rose Iser report.

Ahmed is a 28-year-old Lebanese man detained on Manus Island. According to observations dated August 2013, Ahmed feels “like hitting his head with a steel bar, banging his head on the wall and cutting himself”. He is “fed up with his life and cannot cope with all the problems in the [regional processing centre] and the uncertain future”, according to Ahmed’s minders.

Mazdan, a 27-year-old Iranian detainee, is “finding it difficult to remain in his accommodation” since he found his friend trying to “hang himself in the bathroom”.

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4 thoughts on “Inside Manus Island: asylum seekers’ mental state ‘unravelling’ in indefinite detention

  1. MarilynJS

    The crude racist brutality of Australia towards people they know are refugees is a depravity that amounts to a crime against humanity.

  2. Pamela

    PSP the acronym for Psychological support Program is NEWSPEAK for Suicide Watch.
    PSP guards are expected to sit at arms length to two metres distance from the client/transferee/ asylum seeker or Person depending on their assessed level of liklihood to attempt to kill themselves.
    These PSP guards sit at the open door of a tent or donga on watch. A lesser level of PSP may require a guard to “eyeball” the person every 10-15 minutes and to elicit a verbal response to questions such as “are ya gunna kill
    yrself” or what ya thinkun- are ya ok”.
    The aim of PSP is not treatment or therapeutic contact- it is to prevent a statistic in tomorrows media.

  3. Luke Hellboy

    If only the coalition could have used it’s first choice in dealing with maritime traveling LEGAL refugees, by getting the navy to fire upon them. Would have been more humane.

  4. Rach Louise

    The Australian Federal law dictates that all non-citizens without a valid visa must be mandatory detained in immigration detention centers. Since the introduction of this detention in 1992, significant evidence has shown that mandatory detention has extremely negative outcomes for detainees. This policy disproportionately affects asylum seekers in search of refuge in Australia through irregular maritime arrival, who must wait for indefinite periods of time in detention until their refugee status has been fully assessed and they are granted a valid visa or are alternatively deported upon having an unsuccessful application Australia is the only country in the world where mandatory immigration detention is implemented for all ‘unlawful’ non-citizens.

    There are numerous and complex reasons why the implementation of this policy is so damaging. One of these is the implementation of offshore processing in detention centers like Manus Island. These detention centers are built in remote locations where infrastructure is inadequate and access resources including to specialist healthcare (mental and physical) is limited and delayed when required. Despite government policy that entails an initial mental health assessment within 72 hours of entering the center and ongoing treatment for identified illnesses, inadequate health services in detention are continually reported.

    Instances of depression, self-harm, suicide and post-traumatic stress-disorder among asylum seekers are found to be much higher than non-detained refugees It is suggested that psychological factors influencing the mental health of detainees include feelings of hopelessness and a sense of injustice around their uncertain future and indefinite detention. There is also a strong relationship between the length of time spent in detention and the severity of mental illness and that the effects extend well beyond the point of release into the community. Asylum seekers living in detention have their applications processed at the same rate as asylum seekers who apply from their country of origin. The Federal Government reduced its intake of refugees from 20, 000 to 13, 750. This means that individuals wait for even greater prolonged periods of time to be accepted.

    Inappropriate infrastructure including intrusive security measures, inadequate facilitates, overcrowding, limited access to communication facilities, limited opportunities for external excursions, limited recreational and educational activities have also been found. The agreement for resettlement in third countries also raises many concerns about Australia’s ability to meet International Human Rights Standards. The Federal Government has subcontracted the private company Serco to operate the immigration detention centers, reducing their accountability to the operations within the centers.

    When asylum seekers are brought into detention adult males are often separated from their children and wives, causing further trauma to families. Children are also held in detention, raising many concerns around violating the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Research gathered by the International Detention Coalition (2013) found the following evidence; detention undermines an individual’s right to liberty and right to seek asylum, placing them at great risk of human right violations; detention is harmful to wellbeing, particularly to children who can suffer long term cognitive and emotional development difficulties; the cost is exceptionally high, unsustainable and ineffective and; no credible evidence exists to show that it deters individuals choosing irregular maritime arrival.

    Recommendations include abolishing federal policy of mandatory detention and adopting a model similar to that proposed by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission (1998). This model includes a brief period of detention up to 30 days until identity can be verified and health checks completed, and the introduction bridging visas where refugees can live and work in the community until their visas are processed. Centres should be located in urban areas to ensure asylum seekers have adequate access to resources and health services. Centres should be subject to regular audits which monitor and enforce International Standards. Given the high cost that is involved with immigration detention, this funding could be better spent on better resources, skilled professionals and support services to help asylum seekers have their visa applications processed and undertake inclusive resettlement in Australia as quickly as possible.

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