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Apr 15, 2010

‘Dishonest’ Rudd puts detainees’ mental health at risk

The current direction of Rudd's asylum policies will not only damage the mental health of detainees, they will further damage our well-being as a nation, says child psychiatrist Dr Jon Jureidini.

Senator Chris Evans’ quiet humanisation of the treatment of asylum seekers has always been at risk because it has come about without substantial changes to the laws that underpinned the extremities of the Howard/Ruddock regime.  Now Evans’ achievements have been undermined by the current prime minister’s populist moves.

First, Kevin Rudd joined the tabloid chorus of condemnation of people smugglers. When people become strident in attacking people smugglers, there seems to be a sub-text that the people smuggled are not welcome.

It is no longer accepted for politicians to vilify asylum seekers, or plausible to claim that they are terrorists, and these “traders in human misery” are an alternative target.

Many smugglers may be exploitative and even murderous, but presumably there is a range of motivations — wasn’t Schindler a people smuggler? Arguably the private prison operators who administer the Christmas Island centre also profit from human misery.

Now the prime minister has suspended the processing of asylum seekers from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. People will be detained for many months, although even those who are not found to be legitimate refugees have committed no crime by seeking asylum. Christmas Island is not Woomera; nevertheless prolonged detention creates the risk of serious mental illness.

Once a core of detainees has spent too long in detention, the atmosphere in the centre will deteriorate. We can predict a surge of protest, some of it self-destructive, giving way to despair. If this is allowed to persist, permanent damage will follow.

Many of us working in mental health saw first hand how refugees were harmed through prolonged detention. Documentation of this harm is freely available to government and community. The psychiatric label varied — major depression, severe post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder — but our inhumane treatment of asylum seekers was toxic for those we detained, for those commissioned to detain them and for our society as a whole.

Rudd’s moves represent a return to the ethic of using detention as a deterrent, but seek to do it nicely.  The announcement exemplifies the absurdity of claiming the middle ground on moral issues.

In the interests of reducing short-term political risks, the government has created an unsustainable false compromise, seeking to find a space where none exists between truly humane and ruthless.

Rudd lacks the honesty of Amanda Vanstone and Philip Ruddock when, as minister for immigration and attorney-general, they boasted that locking up children was justified because it deterred boat people.

It is hard to see an outcome of the current political direction that will not damage to the mental health of detainees, and further damage our well-being as a nation.

Dr Jon Jureidini is a child psychiatrist with 10 years of experience working with immigration detainees — children, adults and families. He visited Baxter and Woomera many times.

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35 thoughts on “‘Dishonest’ Rudd puts detainees’ mental health at risk

  1. shepherdmarilyn

    Not to mention that giving refugees a ride is not people smuggling or trading in humans as the clowns keep whining on and on about, it is simply providing transport as our own courts have said over and over again. We have sent refugees to jail for helping their families come to Australia and to call it people smuggling is a complete lie and always was because under Australian law and international law no-one is smugged into the country.

    They simply obey the law, arrive without documents because they cannot get any and present immediately to the authorities.

    In fact is was Vanstone who said in February 2000 estimates ; Senator McKIERNAN—I am talking particularly about the boat people. They are the
    people who arrive on our shores – mainly on Ashmore Islands – and who put their hands up
    and say, ‘Find me, find me! Take me in.’ They do not use these exact words, but they want to
    be found. These are not people who are escaping the scrutiny of our Coast Watch people.
    Senator Vanstone—Senator, I cannot resist! Perhaps you could tell Mr Beazley that so he
    does not keep raving on about this silly idea that we need a Coast Guard to locate the people.
    You at least realise that they want to be found; it would be helpful if your party realised that
    as well.

    Pretty clear, no one is hiding, they are looking for help.

    Of course the cretins in this country are claiming now that seeking asylum is people smuggling and illegally using the people smuggling protocol to defend their position.

    Except as they know very well the protocol has nothing to do with refugees, does not over ride the refugees convention or protocol and using breaches article 31 of the convention and Australia’s migration act which enshrines article 31.

    Jon is right, they pretend to demonise the non-existent smugglers and no matter how many times the reality and facts are presented to our useless frigging media and parliament the babble about people smuggling goes on unabated.

    When an Afghan is forced to flee they are asylum seekers, they remain asylum seekers at all times and they rarely turn into smuggled migrants being harshly exploited as these clowns claim.

  2. shepherdmarilyn

    And it is going to cost $337,000 per person to keep them locked up outside process for 6 months if they are Afghans and then it will suddenly be discovered that they are Hazara shi’ites like all the others and they are just refugees.

    How stupid.

    And Jon, Rudd is not just dishonest he is a blatant liar.

    And the media go silent like a pack of sheep because he claimed seeking refugee status is something to do with country conditions when it is not and never has been.

  3. Rush Limbugh

    How many Australians are in favor off less immigration by any means neccesary I think is the pertinent question.

  4. shepherdmarilyn

    No it is not Rush, refugees are not fucking migrants.

  5. shepherdmarilyn

    Pretty words by now silent cowards

    Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (3.10
    pm)—I am pleased to rise in this debate and take up the points that Senator Fierravanti-Wells has raised. One point she raises is that the government has lost control. What hypocrisy from an opposition whose deputy leader describes that opposition as ‘a rabble’— something I have been describing the opposition as for some time. I am glad the deputy opposition leader now
    agrees with my view of the opposition as a rabble.

    This issue is a complex and important one. The issue of asylum seekers fleeing from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan will be an ongoing problem for this community, this nation and the United Nations. I just want to bring this debate back to exactly what we are
    talking about. We are talking about refugees. We are not talking about illegal immigrants; we are talking about refugees. Look at article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—and I note that earlier Senator Cash was talking about how she analysed this.
    Well, Senator Cash is a lawyer; I am not sure if she has looked at article 14 recently. It says:
    Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
    People who are persecuted are entitled to seek asylum
    The 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, and the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees, provide a definition of the term ‘refugee’.
    The definition is that a refugee is someone who: … owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable, or … unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country …

    This is about people who are in trouble. This is about people who are fleeing wars, who are fleeing persecution in their own country. And what do we have from the opposition? We have the lowest common denominator— the fear factor. When you do not have a policy, when you do not have any ideas, when you have no way of dealing with the issue, start a fear campaign!

    And that is typical of the opposition: a fear campaign against the weakest, most vulnerable people in the world—refugees. You should be ashamed of where you have taken this debate, because this debate should be about ensuring some fairness, some dignity and some
    protection for people who are fleeing war zones, are looking for protection and want to ensure that they can be safe from persecution in the country that they are fleeing from.

    But it is so easy when you are a rabble to actually adopt the rabble approach, and the approach of the rabble is not to think the issues through; the approach of the rabble, which is the coalition in this place, is to go after the weak and exposed. It is to make sure that you hide your incapacity to develop a policy on the treatment of refugees coming to this country, to make sure that you hide your incapacity to formulate a policy of fairness and equity and of treating refugees with dignity.

    The Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Kimoon, has spoken about intolerance. Let me tell you that the coalition’s intolerance has been on show for the public to see. Your intolerance is reprehensible.
    Your intolerance is borne of no capacity to develop policy. Your intolerance is an absolute disgrace to this country. (Time expired)

    Senator MARSHALL (Victoria) (3.20 pm)—There is often debate in this chamber. Because there is an opposition and a government, often that debate has differences of opinion. It can be quite aggressive from time to time, but I must say I have never contributed in a debate in this place that has actually sickened me like this debate. What really sickens me is the approach of the opposition in the way they attack some of the most defenceless and vulnerable people, who are not here illegally. They are here because they are seeking asylum.

    If it is proved that they are not genuine refugees and therefore here as illegal entrants, they are moved away. But the most defenceless people come here seeking refuge—refuge from some of the most hideous and sickening circumstances that exist in the world today.
    The political opportunism, the absolute low road, of the opposition does this country no credit, it does this Senate no credit, it does our people no credit and it makes me sick.

    We had to hear Senator Fierravanti-Wells ask, ‘Why do people arrive without documents?’ and go on and make the suggestion that people who arrive here without documents have destroyed them.

    Then she asked ‘What sort of people are they?’ What Senator Fierravanti-Wells should understand is that people arrive here more often than not with only the shirt on their
    back. The reason they have fled is that they have been displaced, and they have been displaced because their village may have been burnt to the ground or their whole family may have been murdered.

    Maybe those are their circumstances. Maybe they have just been moved on in packs by either military regimes or dictatorships or any of the other horrendous circumstances that millions and millions of people find themselves in, through no fault of their own. Instead of any semblance of compassion, all we get is the opposition attacking the weak and the vulnerable. I think it is a disgrace.

    They should take a long, hard look at themselves. We heard Senator Back in his question today make the absolute suggestion that this process is about terrorism importation. Really, come on. Get a grip. The process of checks that goes on at Christmas Island involves
    security checking and health checking. It is the same format that is well established in this country. It was going on under the previous government and it has not changed. It has not changed.

    Senator Fierravanti- Wells knows that because we went through this in Senate estimates for hour after hour and that was the evidence of all the officials and the minister. She knows the facts but conveniently leaves that out and again simply takes the low road—the politics of dog whistling. It is shameful. You should be ashamed of yourself.

    Senator Cash of course introduced the issue of queue-jumping. Well, she really took us back. She started quoting John Howard. I love it when they quote John Howard now because they pretend he has gone and then they go and quote his ideas. It was all about
    queue-jumping—again accommodating the lowest common denominator argument. If you want to actually have a mature debate about these issues then you
    really should get a grip on some of these issues and understand what the serious push factors are—the fact that there are 42 million displaced people in the world at the moment. And you want to run those lines.

    Senator MARSHALL—Well, you tell me where all those queues are, Senator Cash. When a village is burnt to the ground and people are moved on, and they are desperate to go, are you saying that they should gohalfway around the world to get in some non-existent queue? Really, it is a silly argument.

    It is not done to actually have a serious debate about these issues; it is done by resorting to the lowest common denominator, trying to evoke emotional support for their low-road politics. Through all of this, did we hear Senator Fierravanti-Wells actually suggest what
    the coalition might do on any of these things? She talked about some of the changes we have made, and I wish I had time to go through those things. But all the changes we made were ultimately supported in this place by the coalition. Every single one of them was supported by the coalition. We make no excuse for treating the most vulnerable people in this world with
    humanity. We do it in a properly regulated, tough manner— where if you come here seeking asylum, you are treated with dignity; and if you are here illegally, you get deported. (Time expired)

  6. Rush Limbugh


    Its a long way from Sri Lanka/Afganistan ect?

    Why did these assylum seekers choose Australia?

    Why not the countries inbetween?

    Why not indonesia?

    If they have family here, I understand that,

    But why Australia I suppose is my question. Plenty of good countries allot more cultually similar to Afganistan/Sri lanka etc along the way..

    Actually according to UN conventions Assylum seekers have fuflilled that title when they reach another country that provides relief, how is Indonesia not that country? How are the thousand places that go before they get to Australia not that place of Asylum?

    How are they refugees/assylum seekers when they have found another country of refugee?

    I don’t care about jumping the queue, I don’t care about coming on a boat. But surley the UN is a joke if they class people who flee their country for good reason, find another country that will take them(thus fulfilling that assylum clause), then continue to call them refugees/assylum seekers as they are processed in a country that has accepted them?

    I think this is a political correctness issue, but surley if you have made it as far as Indonesia you have already sought and recieved assylum or refugee, and as far as finding a new home is concerned they are looking for that new home through the UN in a country which has already given them that home.

    …I don’t get it…can anybody answer me this.

  7. Michael


    They are in the greater part simple misfits from their own counties of origin.

    Fundamentalists all.

    Where they are vastly different is in their ability to raise the cash to pay the captain.

    Almost all have raised the money by stand-over tactics in their own country of origin, which almost always involves unlawful conduct. So there is no way they can enter through the front door like legitimate refugees do.

    Not unlike the Cubans who have ended up in the US by traveling by boat.

    So mate don’t shed a tear and hope you never cross their path after they settle here cause they won’t settle down, I assure you.

  8. Sue Hoffman

    Hi Rush

    Indonesia does not provide relief, as you put it. UNHCR refugees are left to languish for years, some held in jails. UNHCR has a concept ‘effective protection’ which needs to be there for a country to be safe for asylum seekers and refugees. Indonesia does not provide effective protection. Asylum seekers/refugees have no legal rights in Indonesia. There is a directive in place but this can be easily withdrawn.

    Indonesia does not accept refugees and asylum seekers, it tolerates them. Indonesian law does not recognise refugees or asylum seekers.

    For a refugee to be accepted in a country, it means they can remain permamently and enjoy rights enjoyed by other residents/citizens. Like being able to work, access education, travel and so forth. Really the things we think of as being part of normal life. These are not available to UNHCR registered refugees in Indonesia.

    Because their situation is uncertain, they live with the constant fear of being returned – which might be unlikely now but who knows in the next few months? They see their lives simply wasting away – highly qualified, professional men unable to use their skills as they are not allowed to work. Years of study down the drain. They see their children become depressed and withdrawn because they have not been to school for 5 or 6 years.

    I could go on, but maybe this gives you an idea.

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