Australia is infamous for how it views and treats the countless number of refugees who try to seek asylum here. These refugees are often put through years of mental deterioration and physical stress, while housed within one of the many detention centres all over Australia and in neighbouring locations. The most notorious of these include the likes of the Nauru detention centre and the MITA (Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation). These two places are known for having sub-par living environments that without any doubt, may even violate some human rights. The refugees that are placed in these detention centres often fall victim to aggressive security who may end up sending the refugees to the ‘punishment room’ for not complying with commands or questioning.
Privacy is also something that these people may not have the privilege of. It is known that in the MITA detention centre, many toilets lack doors. This may be a security measure, or it may be due to the lack of concern given for those in these centres. These people, who have no knowledge of when they will even be able to leave the centres, should at least have access to something as simple as be able to use the toilet in total privacy. Considering the fact that the majority of these asylum seeking refugees have come from countries that are often in the midst of conflict or have limited access to basic human needs such as clean water, its easy to see why these refugees tend to have a higher level of trauma or stress that has accumulated over their lives. Adding to this trauma, they believe that they have made it to freedom and a better life, however, only to be placed into a detention centre to which may even be worse than the place they have come from.
Long-term, indefinite placement within one of these centres, has been proven to have an adverse impact on the mental health of many people. Those affected can still have these problems even after they, if at all, get accepted into the Australian community. As well as with adults, children are not exempt from this, as they may have it worse. As a child, this should be a time of learning, making friends, experiencing the world around them. However, children that have been put into these detention centres are heavily restricted on how they live their lives. In the environment of a detention centre, children cannot do activities of which a child would normally be able to take part in. Prolonged periods of time within a detention centre can have serious effects on the child’s mental development, even causing extreme changes in their behaviour.
A study was done in which seventeen refugees were examined approximately three years and two months after they had been released into the public. They had all been in the detention centre for well over 3 years. This study went to prove the harm that the long term stays in the detention centres can have on these refugees. ‘Participants suffered an ongoing sense of insecurity and injustice, difficulties with relationships, profound changes to view of self and poor mental health’ (Social Science & Medicine 2010). This alone should make it clear that something ought to be done about this situation. As stated previously, these refugees have often come from places so dangerous that they had no choice but to leave. It is easy to have a sense of empathy for the refugees that come from these places but is that really what is felt when they are placed into these detention centres just for them to be weaken even further mentally.
In March of 2019, the average amount of days that refugees were being kept in detention centres was around 503. Compared to the March of 2013, which was only around 124, this is a substantial increase. It comes to ask the question of ‘why they are being kept for so long?’. Part of the reason may be the long and arduous process of obtaining refugee status. Although it being easier for refugees who have come to Australia legally. Those who came by boat face the issue of not being able to apply for the protection visa. They may spend weeks, months or even years in order to get verified through a variety of health and security checks. Only then after this, may then begin the process of applying for the protection visa. Since no limit is currently in place for how long one may be placed in a detention centre, to the refugees themselves, it could be daunting and worrying having to spend years waiting only to possibly be sent back to their own country.
It is evident that the way Australia tries to control the number of people coming into the country illegally, is often more damaging to people than originally thought. Since 1958 it has been made mandatory for any person arriving unauthorized to be placed into a detention centre, via the migration act of 1958. This has caused controversy and debate, one side claiming that ‘Australia’s detention policy is an integral part of the highly developed visa and border controls necessary to maintain the integrity of our world class migration and refugee resettlement programs’ (The detention and removal of Asylum seekers 2005). Although this may be the case, the opposing argument is that no laws are broken by people just trying to seek asylum in a safer country, going even further to state how the severe lack of compassion and empathy put towards the refugees by keeping them for absurd amounts of time is ruining Australia’s international reputation.
This is a clear problem within society that could surely be fixed. There needs to be some serious thought into how this problem could be solved. Whether it is an improved immigration policy or an increase in the staff to which work in the immigration centres that could possibly decrease the waiting times of people trying to get their refugee status approved. A range of research should be done in order to help those refugees that are affected by this issue.
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