Mental distress in asylum seekers cause for alarm: expert

Professor Louise Newman believes the current bipartisan support for offshore processing served only to relocate relatively few asylum seekers in an act of deterrence.
Professor Louise Newman believes the current bipartisan support for offshore processing served only to relocate relatively few asylum seekers in an act of deterrence. Department of Immigration and Citizenship

A LEADING psychiatrist has called for an urgent review of Australia's policy of processing asylum-seekers offshore.

Writing in the Medical Journal of Australia, Professor Louise Newman warned high rates of self-harm and mental distress among asylum-seekers in long-term detention should be ringing alarm bells for both sides of politics.

She said offshore processing remained a "high-risk strategy" because of lingering concerns around the impact of detention on vulnerable groups, including torture and trauma survivors, and those with mental disorders, according to a leading psychiatrist.

Prof Newman, the director of the Centre for Developmental Psychiatry and Psychology at Monash University, believes the current bipartisan support for offshore processing served only to relocate relatively few asylum seekers in an act of deterrence.

"Research has shown high levels of mental disorder in detainee populations, as well as an association between length of time in detention and mental deterioration," Prof Newman said.

"What is deeply concerning is the potential for long-term detention in remote locations to lead to mental breakdown, as witnessed a decade ago in the first version of the Australian government's Pacific Solution policy.

"We should question the use of offshore processing and support mainland community-based processing of asylum claims and end prolonged detention."

She said the medical profession had a key role in advocating for a humane response to asylum-seekers.

Prof Newman's call came as another asylum seeker boat was intercepted in Australian waters on Monday night.

The boat, which was stopped north of Ashmore Islands, was carrying 57 asylum-seekers and two crew.

Topics:  asylum seekers, medical journal of australia



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