59.5 million people forcibly displaced!
The United National High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHRC) estimated that 59.5 million people have been forcibly displaced worldwide, and many states recognise that they have a responsibility to help refugees.
However, the political rhetoric surrounding refugees, both in Australia and around the world, is largely negative and ignores the fact that they leave their homes because of armed conflict or persecution. For this reason, it may not be enough to simply resettle refugees in a new country.
The problem requires a humane solution, not a convoluted legalistic approach.
Ariza Arif, BA (University of New South Wales), LLB (Macquarie University) Student-at-Law.
Over 1.2 million people are in need of resettlement.
The international community continues to fail refugees and asylum seekers by refusing to share responsibility for displaced people.
The UN Refugee Agency has reported that over 1.2 million people are in need of resettlement.
This is a global issue that requires a holistic approach, in which governments work together in order to help the most vulnerable.
Recently, the Australian government announced that a further 12,000 humanitarian places would become available in response to the conflict in Syria and Iraq. 22,406 visas have been granted to displaced persons arriving from these countries over the last two years.
However, more needs to be done. First, Australia must find a humane alternative to detention centres. Second, more funding should be allocated to local services, such as job creation, housing, and healthcare.
We must band together and help the world’s most vulnerable with a humane, international response.
BA (UNSW), LLB (Macquarie University) – Student at law.
Refugees and Australian Society.
Refugees face a great number of obstacles in adjusting to Australian society. These issues can only be resolved with our acceptance, assistance, and diligence. To lessen their sense of displacement, we must, as a community, help them adjust.
This means that first and foremost it is essential for us to welcome and accept these people who, through no fault of their own, have wound up in this land.
Though the political climate is acrid, and views are polarising fast, reality has tactlessly been exposing our inadequacies in regards to this issue. We may have laughed at the appeals of the United Nations, and ignored the abuse in off-shore centres, but we have slowly and surely become familiar with the bitter back stories and plights of refugees. Whether we chose to neglect or acknowledge and act upon the information is entirely up to us.
According to the UN Refugee Agency, integration is the process which streams into settlement. It is defined by nine aims, which are restoring an individual’s security, autonomy, and independence, allowing development and flourishing, promoting familial solidarity, allowing individuals to connect to support and assistance, upholding confidence in human rights and laws, enabling religious and cultural freedom, fighting discrimination, supporting refugee communities, and accommodating differences in family status, gender, and age.
Language Barrier, Cultural Differences, etc.
Any obstacles to these aims are also obstacles to integration, without which refugee settlement cannot be possible. The most noticeable and detrimental hurdles to integration are communication difficulties, specifically the language barrier, cultural differences, rejection of overseas skills or qualifications, lack of Australian work experience, and unfamiliarity with new equipment and/or procedures in the workplace. These challenges are taxing on refugees and can add to the effects of past torture and trauma, intensifying the deterioration of their mental health.
Integration worsens with age and employment.
In coming to Australia, refugees of all ages and races face the arduous task of integration. However, this experience varies depending on an individual’s age. The hurdles of integration worsen with age, and as presented in Dionisio Camacho’s paper on ‘The social, economic and industrial issues specific to migrant worker over 45 year of age seeking employment, or establishing a business, following unemployment (a quantitative approach),’ aged migrants find it harder to find employment in Australia than younger migrants.
Specifically, the time spent trying to reach Australia and being in detention further distances aged refugees from potential employment. Not only do they face the difficulty of working with new and unfamiliar technology, but their overseas qualifications and talents are often greatly neglected. Hence, many aged professionals face the embarrassment of retaking degrees or accepting inferior work. Atop these concerns, aged refugees are also threatened by the bias of employers, who tend to hire young, agile, more productive workers. These hurdles can cause frustration, which worsens the condition of already strained minds, and further isolates aged refugees.
Younger refugees face the different, yet equally cumbersome burden of adolescence. This hinders their adjustment by intensifying a feeling of disconnection from society. This is extremely damaging and can lead to deteriorating relationships, isolation, criminal activity, substance abuse, unemployment, and homelessness.
Modes of Monitoring issues.
In order to curb such issues among the aged and the young, it is vital to implement modes of monitoring and combating said issues. As suggested by the Centre for Multicultural Youth Issues (CMYI), on-arrival support should be given to young refugees, but also to the aged. Where issues with the young may require a focus on education and recreational activities, the issues of the aged would require comprehensive employment services and advice.
Additionally, both the aged and the young would benefit from professional training and development, which would demystify the culture and language, raise confidence and self-esteem, and ease away the sense of displacement.
In order for integration to be successful, it is crucial that concerns are acknowledged and recorded, so that we may monitor and understand individual needs, and implement the solution accordingly.
Furthermore, any ‘othering’ of refugees – such as labelling them ‘criminals’ and ‘illegals,’ or deeming them leeches of resources – needs to be stopped immediately. Integration is difficult as it is; there is no need to couple the negativity of closed minds to the severe and tumultuous experiences these people have had.
Limited resources to address the global refugee crisis
The Refugee Council of Australia said that the refugee intake has increased slightly, but a humane solution to resettlement was not in the cards. In contrast, Canada has taken an inclusive approach towards refugees, resettling 40,000 people in 2016.
The Canadian model is focused on community sponsorship, with local communities cooperating to support new arrivals. Australia’s community support program is focused on shifting costs. For instance, sponsors are responsible for paying a bond and visa application fee, which has the potential to create tensions between refugees and their sponsors.
Detention centre funding
The Government has allocated $1.91 billion to immigration detention centres. The inhumane conditions at these facilities have been well-documented. Self-harm, suicide, and severe psychological distress are all too common, and yet the Government has allocated more money to a failing approach.
Australia needs to reconsider its policies, and perhaps look at what other countries, such as Canada, are doing. We cannot forget the reason why refugees flee their homelands. We cannot turn a blind eye to the negative impacts of mandatory detention. This is not a viable approach to the global refugee crisis.
BA (UNSW), LLB (Macquarie University) – Student at law.
Understanding suicide and self-harm
This post, written by AFFMA office volunteers, first appeared in https://affmablog.wordpress.com/2017/03/13/91/
Self-harm and suicide ideation are not foreign in our detention centres, although they have decreased considerably with the shrinking population in detention after management of the maritime arrivals in 2011, it remains a prevalent issue.
Detainees have demonstrated particular susceptibility to harm – especially of psychological sorts – due to a myriad of reasons; these include but are not limited to:
- their past trauma
- their displacement from family and community
- social isolation
- lack of autonomy and control
- uncertainty about the future.
Additionally, a lack of privacy and space, witnessing episodes of self-harm, monotony, and an extensive length of stay, intensify previous factors and cause health deterioration.
What is needed to curb incidents of self-harm and suicide in detention
In order to curb incidents of self-harm and suicide, it is necessary for the department of Immigration and Citizenship (the department) to neutralise risks which may adversely affect the mental and physical health of the detainees.
The NSW State Coroner’s 2011 report, regarding the 3 suicides at Villawood Detention Centre in 2010, sanctioned the view of the experienced consultant psychiatrist and Associate Professor, Suresh Sundram, who in his report to the inquiry, recognised the ‘frustration, resentment and feelings of powerlessness and helplessness…in immigration detention’.
He suggested the feelings ‘have a potent capacity to exacerbate depression disorders which in turn will exacerbate these feelings’.
Similarly, the Coroner claimed that,
it is surely stating the obvious to observe that persons detained in Immigration Detention Centres must, by the nature of their various situations, be at much greater risk of suicide than the general community.”
He pinpointed the reasons as, ‘loss of families, freedom, status, work and length of time’.
Evidently, some factors leading to self-harm cannot be controlled, however, further stimuli must be denied. Here, it falls upon the department to monitor for these stimuli.
The Commonwealth is responsible for detainees under common law duty of care
As the High Court declared in Behrooz v Secretary, Department of Immigration & Multicultural & Indigenous Affairs, the Commonwealth is responsible for detainees under common law duty of care, as detainees ‘[do] not stand outside the protection of the civil and criminal law.
If an officer in a detention centre assaults a detainee, the officer will be liable to prosecution, or damages. If those who manage a detention centre fail to comply with their duty of care, they may be liable in tort.’
Under s 19(2) of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, it is the duty of the department to neutralise all feasible risks and guarantee the health and safety of the detainees.
Contagion or imitative behaviour
The necessity of curbing episodes of self-harm and suicide ideation lies not only in neutralising the risk for an individual but for the surrounding inmates as well. Exposure to episodes of self-harm and suicide ideation can lead to ‘imitative
Exposure to episodes of self-harm and suicide ideation can lead to ‘imitative behaviour’ or ‘contagion’, and can entice inmates to engage in similar activities. Identified by professionals as the contagion effect, and originating from social learning theory, it can bring about disastrous consequences.
Involvement and social engagement can create positive environment and helps to keep detainees mentally engaged
In order to tackle the issue, the department needs to facilitate and engross detainees any way it can.
There needs to be a variety of engaging and educational activities to keep the detainees occupied and mentally engaged. Involvement in activities, specifically group activities, is shown to heighten optimism.
Detainees with the lengthiest detainments must receive priority, as they are more likely to isolate themselves from the group and resist partaking in activities. The report found a shockingly high level of mental illness among detainees, especially those held for lengthy periods.
As statistics show, the indisputable correlation between length of stay and self-harm urges particular attention upon detainees who have been in detention the longest.
Incidents of self-harm remain prevalent
I myself have witnessed scars and stitches on a detainee, who attempted suicide after hearing news of his transfer to Christmas Island. There have been numerous acts of self-harm I have been told, though I personally was not aware of any other incidents whilst visiting Villawood Detention Centre every week over a span of six months.
Nonetheless, the feelings of helplessness, anxiety and despondency were painfully obvious. It did not seem that these people were much engrossed or facilitated, and it may be assumed that the department has still not managed to neutralise risks of self-harm and suicide.
Detention suicide statistics
The Report by the Commonwealth and Immigration Ombudsman states that from the 1st of July 2010 to the 31st of December 2012, all 11 deaths in detention were suicides, however, according to the Australian Border Deaths Database, only 5 of the deaths were suicides or suspected suicides.
Since then, 19 have died in onshore and offshore centres, 5 of these were suicides or suspected suicides, and a significant number of deaths were natural; usually caused by heart conditions, possibly attributed to the stress of living in the limbo that is detention.
The two deaths that occurred in community detention from 2010 to 2013 were not suicides or suspected suicides.
Read the full report
Countless accounts of self-harm have been included in the statistics covered in the report, ‘Suicide and Self-harm in the Immigration Detention Network’, and can be found online:
It is essential for the department to review and refine the process of data collection and frequent reporting, in order to supervise the health of detainees, and recognise and control the risk of self-harm and suicide.
Prevention of self-harm during immigration detention
Standard medical methodology needs to be applied, and correspondence with the Immigration Health Advisory Group and bodies with appropriate expertise, such as the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, is vital.
Although there has been a phenomenal improvement over the years, as suggested in the report, there needs to be a continuous revision of policies, health standards, and occurrences to target and contain the risk of self-harm and suicide, thereby preventing future occurrences.
Proper Implementation, integration and review of the Psychological Support Program (PSP) is another focal point in the ‘Prevention of Self-Harm for People in Immigration Detention’.
Again, it is the duty of the department to monitor the use of the PSP under its service providers, and by extension, curb the incidents of self-harm and suicide ideation.
Posted by Shezza Khan
- The UN has praised Iran for hosting the fourth largest refugee population in the world and keeping its borders open. Read more: http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2017/03/16/un-praises-irans-exemplary-refugee-efforts
- The European Court of Human Rights has ordered Hungary to pay €10,000 to two refugees who were detained unlawfully in a transit zone at the border with Serbia. Read more: http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2017/03/15/hungary-ordered-pay-asylum-seekers
- More than 40 Somali asylum seekers were killed when a helicopter attacked their boat off the coast of Yemen. Read more: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-03-18/helicopter-attack-kills-somali-refugees-off-yemen-coast/8365934
- A new study shows that promoting entrepreneurship among refugees not only gets them off Centrelink payments, but can contribute millions of dollars to the economy. Read more: http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2017/03/23/refugee-entrepreneurs-bring-million-dollar-boost-australias-economy
- The government is not currently negotiating with other countries for refugee resettlement deals. Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/us-or-nothing-australia-not-negotiating-with-other-countries-for-refugee-resettlement-20170320-gv2jb7.html
Please consider donating to AFFMA on behalf of your friends and relatives this year. While donations of any amount are greatly appreciated, a gift of $35 will pay the visa application fee for one refugee. Unlike most charitable organisations, AFFMA is run entirely by volunteers. Every cent of your donation will go to keeping our door open to the refugees that we serve. This year, give a refugee a chance for a new life in Australia.
Donations can be made directly to AFFMA through PayPal by accessing the following link: