Abstract

Background Over the past decade, developed Western countries have supplied increasingly stringent measures to discourage those seeking asylum.

Aims To investigate the longer-term mental health effects of mandatory detention and subsequent temporary protection on refugees.

Method Lists of names provided by community leaders were supplemented by snowball sampling to recruit 241 Arabic-speaking Mandaean refugees in Sydney (60% of the total adult Mandaean population). Interviews assessed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depressive episodes, and indices of stress related to past trauma, detention and temporary protection.

Results A multilevel model which included age, gender, family clustering, pre-migration trauma and length of residency revealed that past immigration detention and ongoing temporary protection each contributed independently to risk of ongoing PTSD, depression and mental health-related disability. Longer detention was associated with more severe mental disturbance, an effect that persisted for an average of 3 years after release.

Conclusions Policies of detention and temporary protection appear to be detrimental to the longer-term mental health of refugees.

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