Uncertainty caused by indefinite detention and delays in refugee processing are causing serious mental health issues among those in Australia's immigration detention centres, according to Australia's Human Rights Commissioner.
Releasing a report prepared by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) following a visit to the Villawood detention centre facilities in NSW, AHRC president Catherine Branson QC said the apparent suicides of three men at the detention centre last year, as well as high rates of self-harm within the facility, must serve as a warning about the impacts of Australia's immigration detention system on detainees.
"What we saw at Villawood was the result of the system of mandatory and indefinite detention, where people can see no end in sight because there is no set time limit on the period a person can be held in detention," said Branson.
"Sixty per cent of those in detention when we visited Villawood had been detained for longer than six months, and 45 per cent had been detained for more than a year. We saw people scarred from self-harming. We heard others talk of sleepless nights, days of depression and frequent thoughts of suicide."
Branson added that the AHRC has been "deeply concerned for some time" about the negative impacts of prolonged and indefinite detention on people's mental health and wellbeing.
"These concerns have escalated over the past 12 months as thousands of people are being detained for long periods," she said.
"There have been six deaths in immigration detention facilities over the past nine months, including the apparent suicides of three men in three months at the Villawood detention centre. Staff at the Villawood detention facilities should be acknowledged for their efforts to provide appropriate services and conditions, but the mental health impacts of prolonged detention cannot be overcome by these efforts alone."
Branson also pointed out that Australia's system of immigration detention was a key concern raised by the international community during the recent United Nations' Universal Periodic Review of Australia's human rights record.
"I urge the Government to make greater use of community-based alternatives that are cheaper, more effective and more humane, such as the use of bridging visas or community detention," said Branson.
Branson's comments come in the wake of scathing remarks by the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner, Navi Pillay, who yesterday (25 May) said that Australia's long-standing policy of detaining asylum seekers has "cast a shadow over Australia's human rights record".
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