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Immigration Detention: try living with the life changing effects

So many experts have warned the government about the effects of detention on asylum seekers. The experts have been publicly denouncing detention for years, yet we detain more and more people. Most sadly, we detain children, a situation the Human Rights Commission has reported on, in graphic and disturbing detail, this week in The Forgotten Children.

Here we are in 2015, incarcerating innocent children in conditions worse than those in which we jail convicted criminals. Julie Bishop cries tears of pain over the looming deaths of two convicted drug smugglers, yet Tony Abbott’s response when asked if he felt any guilt over the treatment of children in detention was “None whatsoever”. While I do not agree with the death penalty and I feel for the drug smugglers and their families at this tragic time, the contradiction evident in the two responses is nothing short of astonishing.

I left my country because there was a war and I wanted freedom. I left my country. I came to have a better future, not to sit in a prison. If I remain in this prison, I will not have a good future. I came to become a good man in the future to help poor people … I am tired of life. I cannot wait much longer. What will happen to us? What are we guilty of? What have we done to be imprisoned?87 I’m just a kid, I haven’t done anything wrong. They are putting me in a jail. We can’t talk with Australian people.

(13-year-old child, Blaydin Detention Centre, Darwin, 12 April 2014)

Source: The Forgotten Children

Abbott launched a scathing attack on Gillian Triggs, Human Rights Commission President and it was reported today the government has sought her removal prior to the release of the report.

The Abbott government sought the resignation of the president of the Australian Human Rights Commission Gillian Triggs two weeks before it launched an extraordinary attack on the commission over its report on children in immigration detention.

While The Forgotten Children report is about children, it is also about detention. The effects of detention don’t disappear the moment a detainee is released. The experts have warned of this for years and I know from personal experience this is true. There may be some particularly resilient individuals that are released unscathed, but I suggest the vast majority do not find recovery instant or easy. Sometimes the effects are not immediately apparent. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) often doesn’t appear until sometime later. A member of my family suffers PTSD as the result of a life experience totally unrelated to detention. The PTSD did not reach full expression until ten years after the event, although it could be argued with appropriate professional intervention her PTSD may have been detected earlier. There is considerable debate about delayed-onset PTSD and research continues: a good reference article is A Quarter of Cases of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Is With Delayed Onset. The article discusses patients suffering “subthreshold” symptoms after the event but before full expression of the PTSD condition.

Of course PTSD is only one of the many mental health issues that can result from detention. Anxiety and depression are also common.

Not only are we risking the welfare of vulnerable children while in detention, we are risking their future welfare as well because there is a very high risk we are damaging the mental health of their parents (those children who are not unaccompanied minors). This means the parents will be less able to engage with their children as parents at a time when the child most needs their parents to support their recovery.

In 2012 Dr Belinda Liddell, as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the School of Psychology at UNSW, wrote of the impact of immigration policies on the mental health of asylum seekers. Since then our treatment of asylum seekers has worsened, not improved.

In Nauru, where more than 380 asylum seekers are currently being detained, there have been reports of hunger strikes, self-harm, aggression and suicide attempts.

Unfortunately this isn’t new – these signs of psychological distress have been repeatedly witnessed in Australia’s immigration detention centres since the early 1990s.

For several decades now, mental health professionals have documented the psychological health of asylum seekers within mandatory detention facilities. Findings from multiple studies provide clear evidence of deteriorating mental health as a result of indefinite detention, with profound long-term consequences even after community resettlement.

I note “profound long-term consequences“. So should our government. This report isn’t just about children. It is about whole families. This report isn’t just about the conditions in detention. It is about the future of the children, the future of the families. The long-term effects will be different for each person. Many may end up unable to be gainfully employed or to study to build a life after detention. Society will, as society often does in many situations such as rape and domestic violence, blame the victim rather than accept responsibility for allowing the detention in the first place.

Abbott and his ministry should be considering the lives of these people, not some “Stop the boats” slogan that is well past its use-by date. The government need to deliver the “good government” promised on Monday and act responsibly. Persecuting innocent people is not responsible. More importantly, it is not humane and is in contravention of Australia’s responsibilities under international law. It has life-long effects on the imprisoned, long after release.

Robyn Oyeniyi lives with the effects from detention on a daily basis. Robyn writes on Love versus Goliath.

Image by Jen Bethune.


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  1. Sad sack

    Lady Macbeth looms large. Making an answer politically impossible until the Abbutt is deposed.
    Even then bipartisanship may not be possible and QED!!!

  2. Terry2

    It seems that this government and its predecessors seem to ignore the quality of a fair go that has been so much a part of our character as an immigrant nation.

    Gillian Triggs needs to be offered a ‘thanks mate’ for pointing to a defect in our national attitude : we rail against injustice and call for compassion from the Indonesian justice system and we call upon Egypt to show empathy and uphold the right of freedom of speech, and rightly so. But when it comes to people seeking asylum in our country we have permitted successive governments to adopt a vengeful and unforgiving policy of indefinite incarceration and punishment in offshore gulags.

    What we should be saying to Gillian Triggs is “Thanks mate” we hear you and we can and will do better.

  3. Richard

    I heartily endorse Terry2’s comments.
    How can Australia [through Abbott & his co-criminals] run their off-shore Concentration Camps & then expect the rest of the world to take us seriously or offer our citizens any compassion?
    I just hope the ICC are watching

  4. JohnB

    From the SMH:
    “The request was conveyed orally by an official on behalf of Attorney-General senator George Brandis. It was rejected outright by Professor Triggs, who saw it as an attack on the independence and integrity of the commission and herself…..
    Fairfax Media understands that no grounds were given for seeking Professor Triggs’ resignation and that she was told “some other opportunity” would be available to her if she resigned. Professor Triggs, a former barrister and academic, was appointed president of the commission in July 2012 for a fixed five-year term that is intended to protect the president from political interference….”

    Triggs has demonstrated courage and integrity in insisting on presentation of her report, refusing Brandis’ corrupt offer of “some other opportunity” in return for her complaisance.
    Well done Gillian Triggs, you reveal these deceitful LNP would be thugs for the amoral liars they are.

  5. stephentardrew

    Abbott has no guilt, no blame, no responsibility and no morals. A coward and bully at heart. Another case of an academic purloined for telling the truth based upon rational assessment of empirical facts utilising standardised social science methodologies.

    Professor Triggs is held to professionally standards and ethically accountability that Politician do not have meet since, for them, ideological immoral opinions override rational facts.

    A greater bunch of unethical and uneducated fools have never ruled this land.

    I admire Professor Triggs for her professionalism in the face of a viscous attack upon her credibility.

    Philip Ruddock, on the other hand, had no right of appeal.

    Dictators have an over inflated opinion of their dogmatic beliefs and an irrational ideological obsession with authoritarianism.

    Where are we headed Australia?

  6. DanDark

    I watched the Drum on abc last night, I rang the abc this morning to put a formal complaint in about Shari Markson and “how dare the little upstart attack and smear Ms Triggs like she did last night on national TV Shari is Murdochs mouth piece that’s all and she almost need a valium I thought to calm her self down after her vicious rant on Ms Triggs and her credentials, I kept going with this woman is a highly educated woman with a band of experts and according to Shari she is out to get the gov, Shari was out of control and her comments about Ms Triggs were highly defamatory, I kept going with Tony sat on that report for 3 months, the timing was his all his no one elses, I watched 7.30 last night and an invitation to Ms Triggs to appear had been unaccepted by her, I wouldn’t go on your shows either because you have turned so to the right and its obvious, plus the standard has slipped all we get now is reruns of big ideas, and the likes of Shari Markson and that other nutter Rowan Dean going off on his hate Labor fest constantly, they are selling Tonys snake oil thats all its becoming very boring and the Labor bashing by your guests gets a little dreary”
    She said ” I have taken some points on board and thanks for my feedback 🙂

    The other female guest did point out to Markson we are the only country who lock asylum seekers up like we do, The look on the little sooks face was priceless and it sure shut the little witch up.

  7. Kyran

    Excellent read, Robyn. It is imperative that the problem remains cast as a human problem, not an economic or ideological quandary. I would also add that the refugee’s I have met contribute to our culture and society, not detract from it. Many clearly suffer with the memories of what they have seen and endured, but are, for the most part, enthusiastic and positive about what they can add to society. As for the ABC, Dandark, I look at their web site regularly. There were two articles posted on The Drum section, “Forgotten Children” (Elizabeth Elliott) and “Bipartisan Shame” (Nick Talley), yesterday. Both are well worth reading. I should, however, caution against reading the comments. It is evident most of the “commentators” have a very superficial understanding of the situation and “stop the boats” appears to be the extent of their intellectual and compassionate capacity, notwithstanding the expiry of it’s “use by” date. All of the components of this humanitarian situation have been reduced to slogans and righting that wrong will require a leader, as Robyn points out. Where for art thou? Take care

  8. Pingback: What does ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ teach young women? | Love versus Goliath : A Partner Visa Journey

  9. Terry2

    Dan, I too saw Sharri Markson on the DRUM and I have to wonder why the ABC, in its quest for balance, would feel the need to invite somebody of such shallow intellectual capacity to comment on matters which are so obviously beyond the scope of her Murdoch indoctrinated reasoning.

    I was quite thankful that Professor Gillian Triggs was not there as a guest to respond to Markson’s spiteful and immature vitriol : it would have been cringeworthy for this fine Australian to be exposed to this opinionated nobody.

    I don’t blame the ABC but surely there are limits to so called quest for balance.

  10. olive

    Abbott is a narcissistic personality with sociopathic traits….he doesn’t care a jot about what is happening to the children in detention centres ….neither he not his band of ideologues give a hoot……….the only compassion they have is for their own skins and survival ………we need to realise that we have pathologically distorted people in leadership positions in this country . Sadly Bill Shorten hasn’t said much either…….its up to us as citizens to realise that none of our pleas , rational arguments, research or reports are going to have any effect on this government. Time for citizens to think creatively and take some clever actions.

  11. diannaart

    How Abbott handles dissent? – appallingly. But we knew that, its about time the self-deluded LNP supporters found out as well.

  12. Ricardo29

    It is time for Labor to admit it got the refugee issue wrong, issue a grand mea culpa and then promise a complete change of direction. Agreements with Indonesia about stopping the people smugglers, including a crackdown on corrupt police and TNI involvement, the offer of lots of money (redirected from Manus and Nauru) to support UNHRC assessment centres in Indon, acknowledge past stupidities against Indonesia – without going back to Timor– and take more refugees. Take back the high moral ground, you won’t have to compete with the Libs, they are intractable. Show some guts, show the Australian people who are appalled by the treatment of asylum seekers in concentration camps that you are worthy of our support to dispose of this terrible bunch of lying bastards. We want to do it, but we need to be sure you deserve our faith and trust.

  13. diannaart

    Imagine at the beginning of the Middle East crisis, Australia had worked with its neighbours in taking care of refugees. All that money spent on military, orange life-boats, guarded compounds and the support staff, could all have been invested into helping Indonesia provide safe housing for the dispossessed. We may have established such good bonds that we would’ve had some chance of having the 2 young men from the ‘Bali 9′ saved from the death squad.

    There would never have been any need to “stop the boats’ if people did not have to flee so desperately.

    The excuse I have heard used by both sides of politics is that Indonesia has not signed the UN Convention – so what? That does not mean our countries could not work together.

  14. diannaart

    Thanks for the link – have tweeted Jeff, too late for qualifications – BeyondBlue convenient beard for Jeff.

  15. Julain

    When do we realise the truth and begin the revolution.

  16. David

    Seems to me that Nero Fiddled while Rome burned. Abbot’s ego exceeds Nero by a million miles. Hasn’t and can’t make the transition from being a bullying Opposition Leader to Lodge. We should all hang our heads in shame this man is out of control. Napoleon also needs to move aside and make room for this pathetic excuse for another megalomaniac.

  17. Pingback: » Misogyny and Racism – the norm in Australian political discourseMairiVoice

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