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Supporting refugees in Australia

11 April 20240 comments

Many refugees and asylum seekers have high levels of trauma from experiences before and during migration or while their refugee claims are processed, according to a new paper from the Australian Psychological Society.

The report says these experiences can seriously undermine their mental health and wellbeing.

It says myths and stereotypes exist in the community about refugees and asylum seekers, including that they are ‘queue jumpers’ or are not in genuine danger.

“Such ideas are perpetuated by the media and make the experiences of Australia harder and more harmful to the health of refugees and asylum seekers,” the report says.

It points out that a refugee is “someone who has a well-founded fear of persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”.

“It makes no difference if a refugee is rich or poor, or how they arrive in Australia: what matters is that they are at risk of, or have experienced, persecution,” the paper says.

“An asylum seeker is a person who has sought protection as a refugee, but whose claim for refugee status has not yet been assessed. Australia is required under the refugee convention to provide asylum seekers with an opportunity to seek protection, regardless of whether they have entered Australia with or without a valid visa.”

The paper highlights that it is a human right to seek freedom from persecution in other countries. This right is set out in international law.

“Some (but not all) refugees may have mental health problems based on their previous experience of loss and trauma and sometimes related to how they are treated when they arrive in Australia,” the paper says.

“Prompt and appropriate mental health care is critical to ensure that any psychological issues are resolved. It is also critical that the process for handling asylum seekers does not create mental illness with long term consequences for the individual and the community.

“There is overwhelming evidence that detention is damaging to mental health, over and above any pre-existing illness or trauma. This effect is worse when the detention is offshore and in remote locations where there is little or no mental health or other legal, medical or language support.

“In general, detention is only acceptable if it is brief, absolutely necessary, and used when all other options have been exhausted.

“Further harm to mental health is caused when asylum seekers are issued with temporary visas, endure prolonged refugee assessments or are given limited access to support, work opportunities or services.”

The report outlines ways Australians are concerned about the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, can get involved to support refugees.

This can include staying informed and getting the facts on refugee issues through subscribing to impact magazine: AMES News

It can include joining a refugee advocacy or support organisation or volunteering time with a refugee support organisation, such as AMES Australia” Volunteering Opportunities at AMES Australia | AMES Australia.

Other ways to make a difference include taking action and support a refugee campaign to help a fair and just environment for refugees in Australia, lobbying the Federal Government for fairer refugee policies or combatting myths and negative stereotypes around refugees and asylum seekers through conversations with family, friends and work colleagues.

Read the APS paper: Refugees and asylum seekers | APS (