Australia cares about your mental health…unless you’re an asylum seeker

Today an article from NZ Radio was published, outlining mental disorders that a group of asylum seekers are suffering due to their time in Australian offshore detention centres.

Australia’s policy is to lock up people who arrive by boat without visas/passports/papers. Or to turn back their boats and leave them in international waters. People who are locked up in our offshore detention centres on Nauru Island or Manus Island (near Papua New Guinea) are there indefinitely, even though they haven’t committed crimes. The vast majority of people arriving in Australia via boat are genuine refugees, according to the government’s information. But they aren’t resettled in Australia, as per Australia’s Operation Sovereign Border’s policy.

Hope withers and dies when there is no chance of being set free. The people on Nauru and Manus are suffering severe mental disorders due to the indefinite nature of their detention and the conditions they have to live in. (Warning: links to the following files may contain distressing information)

One of the detainees on Manus Island, a cartoonist who is nicknamed ‘Eaten Fish‘, has OCD, panic attacks and PTSD.

So during Mental Health week, and as part of OCD Awareness Week, let’s take a few moments to remember the people who are suffering these conditions. They are people just like us, who had to make a difficult choice to get away from their home and restart life. They might have done it for their kids or themselves. They might have converted to a religion that is disallowed back at home. Whatever the reason, they are people, and should be treated with basic respect and care.  Not only can we remember them, but we can do something helpful for them. Here are some options:

  • Donate time, money or resources to We Care Nauru, an organisation that sends donations to the asylum seekers and refugees on Nauru to provide for their physical needs and help them know they’re not forgotten
  • Join an asylum seeker or refugee advocacy group like Mums 4 RefugeesLove Makes A WayRefugee Action Collective or ASRC (Asylum Seeker Resource Centre) or follow them on Facebook (Mums 4 Refugees, Love Makes a Way, RAC, ASRC). There are plenty of other groups too, there will be one that you’ll fit into.
  • Contact your local MP and discuss the situation with them. Ask them to advocate for refugee mental health.
  • Contact the Minister for Immigration (I called his Canberra office this week, and the lady who answered the phone was lovely, so no need to be frightened!)
  • Contact the Prime Minister
  • Contact the Minister for Health and suggest she look into the mental health conditions of asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus.

Even though this seems like a mountain we can’t move, we can be like thousands of tiny water droplets constantly dripping on the mountain – we are going to cut a path and eventually break that rock down, if only we don’t give up.