B4. Asylum Seekers – Oral Paper Session
Friday, 31 March 2017
A psychological and human rights audit of asylum policy – can harm be avoided?
This paper discusses the tension between the psychological needs of asylum seekers and the legal and policy framework which they enter when arriving in Australia, with a particular emphasis on detention policy. The presentation attempts to ‘audit’ detention and RSD law, policy and practice and proposes a framework for the reception of asylum seekers which is compatible with both protecting them from psychological harm and the need to resolve identity and security issues. Studies of detained populations have identified a range of practices that appear to be harmful to mental health. A question asked is the extent to which demonstrably harmful policies are necessary to achieve the legitimate border control objectives which detention is said to advance.
Guy Coffey (Foundation House)
Keeping Hope Alive: Torture and Trauma Counselling on Nauru and Manus Island
Since February 2013, FASSTT counsellors employed by Overseas Services to Survivors of Torture and Trauma have provided counselling and support to over 800 torture and trauma survivors on Nauru and Manus Island.
Clients commonly present with a range of psychological and somatic symptoms including suicidal ideation, high levels of anxiety, intrusive thoughts and ruminations, sleep disturbances and nightmares, heightened startle responses, poor concentration, memory loss, lethargy and depression. These symptoms are often consistent with formal diagnoses of depression, anxiety and posttraumatic stress disorders and are strongly indicative of the exposure to torture and other traumatic events that survivors describe having experienced in their countries of origin.
Client presentations are also influenced by factors associated with life in an environment that is not conducive to recovery from trauma. The length of time it has taken to process protection claims, the absence of viable resettlement options, the loss of autonomy and sense of agency, the extremely challenging living conditions, and the ongoing uncertainty about the future contributes to aggravating symptoms and impedes the survivor’s ability to recover.
Bernadette McGrath (Overseas Services to Survivors of Torture and Trauma)
Presentation currently unavailable
The impact of visa insecurity on refugee mental health
Current regional conflicts are creating a surge in global migration. In response, Australia has adopted a range of restrictive visa policies that have potential to create uncertainty for refugees and asylum seekers. The current study aimed to determine the effect of visa insecurity on mental health outcomes within a clinical sample of refugees in Australia. The sample comprised 781 treatment-seeking adult clients (53.9% male) attending a clinic for torture and trauma survivors. Country of origin was most frequently identified as Afghanistan (18.1%), Iraq (15.3%), Iran (15.1%) and Myanmar (8.2%). The Hopkins Symptom Checklist was administered at treatment admission, with the help of an interpreter where necessary. Latent class analyses identified four groups varying in severity of symptoms. Combined depression and anxiety severity was significantly associated with female gender and visa insecurity. Refugees with insecure visa status were five times more likely to report severe symptoms than low-level symptoms. The findings suggest that for refugees living in the community, temporary status visas play a significant role in ongoing distress.
Elizabeth Newnham (The University of Western Australia)
Presentation currently unavailable
Deciphering despair: A study of self-harm among asylum seekers
Concerns regarding self-harm among asylum seekers in Australian immigration detention have been frequently and persistently raised by academics, health professionals, human rights organisations and refugee advocates, among others, over the past two decades. Despite these concerns, however, little systematic information exists regarding the incidence and nature of self-harm, as well as precipitating factors for self-harm among the immigration detention population. This is largely due to the lack of monitoring processes by successive government departments responsible for asylum seeker policy. As asylum seekers carry many of the established risk factors for self-harm, and self-harm is strongly associated with suicide, the ongoing lack of monitoring of self-harm in Australian immigration detention clearly may have serious implications for the health of detained asylum seekers. The aim of the present study, therefore, is to fill several gaps in government monitoring, and consequently in the literature, regarding key factors associated with self-harm among asylum seekers in Australian immigration detention. Via a retrospective analysis of self-harm incident reports from a 12-month period to July 2015, obtained under Freedom of Information, the current study will examine the incidence of self-harm, precipitating factors for, and methods of, self-harm, and whether these factors vary by detention type (on-shore, off-shore or community detention). The implications of these findings for the health of asylum seekers, as well as broader self-harm prevention strategies, will also be discussed.
Kyli Hedrick (University of Melbourne