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Australia’s asylum system created distress – study

1 May 20230 comments

Asylum seekers applying for refugee status in Australia feel let down by bureaucracy, with some driven to self-harm, a new study has found.

The study by researchers from Murdoch University and University of South Australia found the visa process appeared to just as bad, or even more, distressing than asylum seekers’ experiences of trauma.

Published in the International Journal of Social Psychiatry, the study comprises interviews and surveys with 38 migration agents, lawyers and legal aid staff handling protection cases over a two-year period.

It found the uncertainty of legal status worsened mental distress and that

“The former coalition government established an assessment scheme to resolve the visa applications of more than 30,500 asylum seekers who arrived by boat between 2012 and 2014,” the study said.

“The fast-track system restricts the types of visas people can access and limits their avenues of appeal,” it says.

The researchers criticised the system for failing to live up to its name, saying, that on average, it takes up to six years for people to receive their first temporary visa.

Earlier this year, the Albanese government announced it would provide a permanent visa pathway for Temporary Protection Visa (TPV) and Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV) holders.

Both types of visa allow access to medical care and welfare but place restrictions on work hours.

But asylum seeker and refugee advocates have criticised the government’s lack of clarity on those in the fast-track stream.

Some 10,000 refugees rejected under the fast-track process remain on bridging or expired visas. The Refugee Council of Australia said this left them at risk of deportation to home countries they escaped.

The report’s lead author Mary Anne Kenny said lawyers involved in the visa process had seen asylum seekers experience strong feelings of “hopelessness, anger, withdrawal and suicidality”.

One legal professional cited in the paper said one of their clients took their own life because they felt poorly treated and “completely let down” by the system.

Another said they had to call ambulances several times as asylum seekers broke down in their presence.

All of the legal professionals surveyed said they had seen their clients cry.

The authors recommended clearer timelines for refugee status resolution in order to lessen the legal limbo for asylum seekers.