The British Journal of Psychiatry
Impact of immigration detention and temporary protection on the mental health of refugees
ZACHARY STEEL, DERRICK SILOVE, ROBERT BROOKS, SHAKEH MOMARTIN, BUSHRA ALZUHAIRI, INA SUSLJIK

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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