Detention of asylum-seeking children in Australia harms their health

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A rally against child custody in Melbourne, Australia on 12 June 2021

James Ross/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Children held in Australia’s immigration detention centers have higher rates of mental health conditions, developmental concerns and nutritional deficiencies, according to the most comprehensive study of their health in the past decade.

“We want policymakers to recognize that detention is harmful to children and that they should not be detained under any circumstances,” says Shidan Tausif in the Immigrant Health Service at the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne, Australia, who led the study.

Australia’s policy detain all asylum seekers who arrive without a valid visa While their claims are being reviewed. are adults Most are held in high-security immigration detention centers, Under Australian law, children must only be placed in these facilities as a last resort and preferably be detained with their families in community housing.

However, from 2012 Australia started keeping Hundreds of children in detention centers for long periodsoften for years, then a Increase in boat asylum seekers, These included children accompanying family and people traveling on their own.

Tausif and colleagues reviewed the medical records of 239 of these children who were referred to their hospital’s Immigrant Health Service, which provides medical and mental health care to asylum seekers and refugees. The children attended the service between 2012 and 2021, either while they were still in custody, which required them to be brought in by guards, or after they had been released.

The children came from 15 countries, the most common being Iran. The average time spent in detention was seven months for those held in facilities on the mainland of Australia and more than four years for those held in offshore detention centers on Nauru in Micronesia and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

Overall, 60 percent of the children had nutritional deficiencies such as low iron or vitamin D. None received routine childhood vaccines in custody, meaning 71 percent were behind on their immunization schedules. One-fifth also had untreated latent tuberculosis.

Three-quarters of the children had learning difficulties or developmental differences including autism, and 62 percent had mental health problems, including anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. this was it more than four times Compared to rates of mental disorders in Australian children. Many also had nightmares and 10 per cent self-harmed.

This finding is consistent with anecdotal reports from some pediatricians who have been allowed into Australia’s immigration detention centres.

david isaac For example, the Children’s Hospital in Westmead, Sydney, described a 6-year-old girl who attempted to kill herself and a 15-year-old boy who self-harmed after visiting the Nauru detention center in 2014. Was.

Elizabeth Elliot And Hasantha Gunasekaraalso at the Children’s Hospital in Westmead, visited a detention center in Australia’s Northern Territory in 2015 and told the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) that the children taken into custody were the most traumatized they had ever seen, with many openly talking about suicide.

Many children had already experienced trauma before coming to Australia, Tauseef says, but being held in detention centers further damaged them because of poor living conditions and restrictions on their movement, education and play. AHRC describes detained families living in tents surrounded by tall, barbed wire And a child was playing with cockroaches because he didn’t have toys.

Adding to the problem, Tauseef says, was the deep uncertainty faced by the children and their families as they did not know how long they would be detained or where they would be taken.

Number of children held in Australian immigration detention centers peaked around 2000 in July 2013. Since late 2014, the government is gradually Removed children from these centersTogether last two release in 2021,

The released children are initially taken into community custody or given temporary visas, which “perpetuates the uncertainty,” Tauseef says. However, since February this year have been able to do something Apply for Permanent Visa,

To prevent children from being held in prolonged detention again, Rebecca Eckard The Refugee Council of Australia, an independent advocacy organisation, says the government should legislate to allow children to be held in detention centers for no more than 72 hours before being taken into community custody. “At the moment, there is nothing to prevent this government or any future government from detaining children for longer periods if there is a further increase in people arriving by air or sea without visas,” she says. Are.

A spokesman for the Australian Home Department said new scientist That the Australian Government is “committed to keeping children out of immigration detention centres” and has “zero tolerance for any form of abuse, neglect, mistreatment or exploitation involving children”.

Tauseef says some children who have been locked up will have lasting effects on their health. “We find that if they get a permanent visa, it actually improves their outlook on life, but issues can emerge later, following childhood trauma,” he says. “It is something that we are monitoring.”

Need a listening ear? UK Samaritans: 116123; US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1 800 273 8255; Hotlines in other countries.


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