Recent self-immolations and suicide attempts on Nauru have highlighted the impact of Australia’s asylum policies on people’s mental health. There are also increasing reports of self-harm, suicides and suicide attempts among the 30,000 people seeking protection in Australia.

In July 2016, the Refugee Council of Australia spoke about these issues at a major national conference. The National Suicide Prevention Conference, held by Suicide Prevention Australia (SPA), was held in Canberra between 24-27 July 2016.

How our policies lead to suicide and self-harm

Shukufa Tahiri  spoke on behalf of RCOA on a panel that sought to increase understanding about suicide and suicidal behaviour in migrant and refugee populations in Australia.

She spoke about the  way government policies undermines the mental health of refugees and people seeking asylum. Our asylum policies:

  • mean that people are detained or live in fear of being re-detained
  • keep people in limbo by delaying the processing of their claims to refugee status, and deny them a fair hearing when their claims are processed
  • have stopped many from working and learning
  • deny people the right to reunite with their loved ones, and
  • leave them in fear of being returned to persecution, by giving them only temporary protection.

This very vulnerable population are not given enough support, with limited government funds for services to help them. Our government continues to fail to embed appropriate suicide prevention support and services for these people, especially those affected by offshore processing and temporary protection.

What should be done

By taking part in this conference, we hope to increase awareness in the mental health sector of the damaging psychological impacts of the policies of the Australian Government.

We believe that there should be an urgent inquiry to assess the extent of this problem, and to review gaps in services impacting this group of people.

We continue to call for a fair refugee determination process and permanent settlement for those recognised as refugees, including those held offshore. Fundamentally, it is these policies that must be reversed in order to allow these people to start healing.

RCOA is committed to working with SPA and other interested parties to ensure that this issue is recognised and redressed. We hope that SPA will release a public statement about this important matter.