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Asylum Seeker Health

One of the great assets of the AMA is its breadth of policy positions. There is a great variety of issues across the health and social sectors upon which the AMA and the medical profession have a policy or at least a view or informed opinion.

04 Sep 2011

By AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton

One of the great assets of the AMA is its breadth of policy positions.

There is a great variety of issues across the health and social sectors upon which the AMA and the medical profession have a policy or at least a view or informed opinion. 

This is a great weapon in our advocacy arsenal.  It keeps us relevant and influential.

A case in point is the health of asylum seekers.

The AMA rightly believes that the system of mandatory detention of asylum seekers is inherently harmful to the physical and mental health of detainees.

The harm is especially acute in the case of children.

Our recently updated Position Statement details our concerns about the health effects of detention centres on detainees.

My remarks to last month’s AMA Parliamentary Dinner in Canberra came at a time when the asylum seeker debate in this country is at a most heated, divisive and ugly juncture.

We must inject compassion and humanity into this controversial issue.

Despite improvements in the provision of health care to immigration detainees, the policy of mandatory detention and the remote location of most detainees mean that the health status of detainees continues to decline.

While entering the debate, we are staying clear of the politics.  We are clearly focused on the health aspects, which also touch on human rights, ethics, and the right thing to do.

Our Government must do all that is possible to ensure that these poor people are assured access to quality health care.

These are damaged people desperately seeking a new life in this country.  They are often fleeing diabolical situations in their home country.

Yes, they bring problems with them – problems that many Australians could not possibly envisage.

Some of them have been through torture and some of them have been through physical health problems.  They are well acquainted with fear and danger and desperation.  They seek hope and peace – a future.

Then they arrive here and find themselves in mandatory detention.

The risk of mental health issues becomes higher the longer they are in detention.

There are people who are there more than a year. There were about 350 children in detention in August.  In Darwin alone, there were 179 children, and 81 of those were unaccompanied by parents or adult relatives.

These children should not be in detention.  You must remember that a large number of them will eventually become Australian citizens.  Why put them through this mental hell?

Our paediatricians and psychiatrists in the field are sharing some terrible stories about what is happening to people in detention.  We’ve had a nine-year-old child with a serious suicide attempt. That is just shocking.  And we’ve got four- and five-year-olds who are actually on hunger strike with their parents.

Many of these detention centres are in very remote locations and it is difficult to get health services in there.

In the community, there is access to schools, there is access to good health care, and there is access to good psychiatric support.  These poor children should be in the community, not in detention.

The AMA will continue to speak out on behalf of these people without a voice.


Published: 04 Sep 2011