Why Offshore Detention Hurts People

What is it that refugees and asylum seekers are hoping to find in their vulnerable state, when they reach a destination where they hope to find safety?

It is exactly what we all would hope for apart from safety itself: empathy, respect, compassion, support and a way forward. 

Are asylum seekers receiving that type of welcome from Australia's Government? Sadly and tragically, no.

As part of a deliberate policy by the government to deter further arrivals by boat, the conditions facing the remaining 2000 refugees and asylum seekers in offshore detention on Manus Island and Nauru are inhumane and brutal. Refugee advocates, human rights organisations and campaigners frequently discuss the psychological damage that offshore detention inflicts on detainees. These claims are supported by experts in the field . What are the specific elements of Australia's implementation of its policy that create an environment of additional harm?

Our journey across Greece and Jordan to study humanitarian approaches to refugee support gave us a clear, real-life understanding of the difference between environments that support refugees and those which harm them.

In general terms, to retain a sense of hope and purpose, refugees need to experience conditions that as are as far as possible comparable to normal everyday life. While their life remains on hold, they need the ability to engage with local communities, to work, to study, to contribute and to plan. They need to be accommodated within an environment where they feel respect and protection. These elements are at the heart of humanitarian approaches.

Everything rests on a conscious choice by governments and their agents to either approach the issue responsibly and humanely or with callousness. The first entails the extending of respect and dignity to vulnerable people and standing in solidarity with them.

Solidarity is not charity- it is the ability to stand beside another human being in need and say"I am with you".

 This philosophy adds massively to the reciprocal responses of refugees, who willingly form positive relationships with their hosts while their future is in limbo. If the authorities adopt hostile attitudes, as Australia has, adversarial relations inevitably arise.

We have broken down here in brief, the main elements of conditions that harm refugees and are detrimental to their mental states.

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Negative elements of offshore detention

• Lack of transparency and accountability of the agents administering the centre
• Negative and tense relationships between the authorities and the detainees
• The absence of mutual respect and empathy
• Inadequate basic resourcing
• A culture of hostility and high security prison-like environments
• Poor and overcrowded accommodation

Detainees are harmed by:

• A strong sense of isolation
• A lack of perceived safety
• An absence of positive engagement with local communities
• The inability to work or engage in personal or community projects
• The inability to learn or attend school
• The inability to contribute meaningfully to the community environment
• An inability to plan and create timelines
• Physical separation from family
• The enduring of endless time without purpose
• A lack of adequate medical and professional support
• Inadequate sanitation
• A lack of information flow and clear advice regarding the status of their claims
• Complete uncertainty as to their future

Migrant Crisis:

A Brief History

What is Offshore Detention?