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Australia's 'cruel' asylum regime must end, say 190 experts

Australia's 'cruel' asylum regime must end, say 190 experts

Array of leading figures sign statement calling for a halt to mandatory detention and ‘unacceptable’ asylum-seeker policy

Asylum seekers leaving Christmas Island for Nauru
Asylum seekers leave Christmas Island for Nauru. Photograph: AAP/Department of Immigration and Citizenship
Leading psychiatrists, bioethicists, human rights lawyers, novelists, priests and refugee advocates have published a collective document accusing the Australian government of inhumane treatment of asylum seekers and demanding an end to mandatory detention and offshore processing.
In a “j’accuse” statement, signed by more than 190 individuals and organisations, the collective argues Australia is “pursuing a policy of detention for asylum seekers, both adults and children, in spite of clear evidence that it causes psychiatric disorders, self-harm and suicide”.
It says Australia’s policy of deterring asylum seekers, in which they are all moved to offshore detention centres on Papua New Guinea and Nauru, “requires damaging some to deter others and uses the lives of vulnerable people, the vast majority of whom are found to be refugees, as a means to a political end”.
Professor Louise Newman, one of Australia’s foremost developmental psychiatrists and a signatory to the statement, said the document “pulls together prominent Australians with a shared view that current responses to asylum seekers, including children, are cruel, unnecessary and unacceptable”.
“This crisis of immigration detention requires urgent action and the cessation of offshore deportation and mandatory detention,” Newman, who sat on the immigration department’s Immigration Health Advisory Board (Ihag) before it was disbanded by the current government last December.
Other signatories include human rights lawyer Julian Burnside, bioethicist Deborah Zion, and novelist Dr Rosie Scott.
The statement comes just days after Dr Peter Young, the former chief psychiatrist responsible for the mental health of all asylum seekers detained by Australia, described the immigration detention regime as akin to torture.
“If we take the definition of torture to be the deliberate harming of people in order to coerce them into a desired outcome, I think it does fulfil that definition,” Young said.
Young’s extensive observations, reported by Guardian Australia, also included that the department of immigration misused patient informationand that psychiatrists working within the system were often viewed as “soft touches” by the department if they advocated on their patients’ behalf.
Young received overwhelming praise for his comments from peak medical bodies, prominent mental health experts and human rights groups.
The “j’accuse” statement also says Australia’s immigration regime violates the rights of children by “exposing them to violence, trauma and to poor medical and psycho-social care, with no access to independent monitoring”.
It accuses the federal government of “exploiting ignorance about asylum seekers’ needs and circumstances” adding that it does this by “encouraging racist media coverage”.
The statement ends by demanding the federal government bring an end to mandatory detention, cap the length of detention to 30 days, and adopt a policy framework that is “consistent with obligations under the refugee convention”

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