The Alarming Truth About Children In Detention Centres

  • Article by Roland Bleyer
  • June 15, 2015 at 3:19 PM

Post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, self harm and suicidal tendencies are not conditions usually associated with children, but top medical professionals say these are just a few of the conditions faced by children and adults in Australian detention centres.

“The evidence from Australia’s immigration detention centres is in,”The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) President, Professor Nicholas Talley says in a media statement.

“They seriously and irrefutably harm the health of children and adults who have sought our protection.”

Professor Talley is one of the many medical experts in Australia fighting hard to end inhumane treatment of refugees in Australia and Nauru as more and more evidence reveals a lack of treatment and reasonable living conditions – particularly for children.

A report from the Australian Human Rights Commission in 2014 found that detention negatively affected the mental health and general wellbeing of almost all parents and children.

“Eighty-five percent of children and parents indicated that their emotional and mental health had been affected since being in detention,” the report says.

“There were no positive responses to detention – the most common impact on the emotional health of children and their parents were feelings of sadness and ‘constant crying’.”

The report also found “alarming results” in the rates of mental disorder in children and the severity of conditions, reporting that 34% of children in detention centres had mental health disorders that would “be comparable in seriousness to children referred to hospital-based child mental health out-patient services for psychiatric treatment.”

In contrast, less than 2% of children in the Australian population have mental health disorders “at this level”.

It was partly these findings that inspired 17 peak health bodies in Australia to write to the government in March 2015, asking for all children to be released from immigration detention in Australia and Nauru.

But these findings have not been widely reported in the media, and since then there have even been new laws passed that could make it harder for medical professionals treating children in detention to report on the conditions.

In May 2015, the Australian government passed the Australian Border Force Act, which, among other things, establishes secrecy and disclosure provisions. Professor Talley summarises the Act as “an attempt to further restrict the Australian public’s access to the truth about conditions in the immigration detention centres.”

“This is a law that actively restricts the dissemination of any information gleaned by staff or contractors (including medical staff) in the centres; a law which threatens up to two years imprisonment for any doctor (any person) who dares to disclose the reality of the conditions in the centre,” he says.

“While there are caveats to the restriction, including where someone considers it necessary to save ‘the life or health of an individual’, it entirely forbids broader disclosure of information about conditions.”

Professor Talley is attempting to increase awareness further, and has achieved some success in the form of an editorial for the Medical Journal of Australia.

In this written call to “let the children go”, Professor Talley reminds readers of Nelson Mandela’s moving words from 20 years ago:

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

He says that while the majority of public opinion supports the current approach to immigration and refugee processing, things will change if there is more awareness of the conditions and risks faced by children and parents in detention.

“Asylum seeker health is not about politics, but about our humanity,” he says.

His editorial was published on 15th June, and within hours had received coverage from prominent media outlets including the The Age, the Australian Financial Review, Sky News, and, as well as on social media.

Images: The Medical Journal of Australia cover, source: MJA on Twitter; A shot of a detention centre in Australia, source: Twitter post (above).


Detention twitter

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