Impact of Detention Centres on Asylum Seekers

Modified: 6th Sep 2017
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BUSINESS REPORT: Asylum seekers

Executive Summary

This report outlines the impact of detention centres where those seeking asylum in Australia are placed. It examines the issues relating to detention centres and consequences of them. As it is repeatedly demonstrated by research, there is a uniform trend highlighting the trauma and the sufferings of asylum seekers during their stay at Australian detention centres. This is due to the inadequate facilities and the lengthy duration of time which asylum seekers are forced to spend in these detention centres. Adequate facilities are especially important for young asylum seekers as they endure sorrow to a greater extent. When viewing this issue from a global perspective, approximately 51.2 million people are displaced as a result of conflict or prosecution every year and close to 50% of this number are children (UNHCR 2014). These numbers provide reasons for provision of all the required facilities and faster processing systems to reduce the time at the detention centres.

This report examines the main causes of mental health issues and the difficulties of integrating into a new society amongst asylum seekers especially, young asylum seekers and provides possible solutions to ensure that asylum seekers transit into the new society comfortably.   

Issue Discussion

  1. Facilities

Rwandan genocide and Syrian war (caused by the Arab spring) cause a large inflow of asylum seekers to Australia (Keller 2003, p.1721). Asylum seekers are detained indefinitely in conditions that abuse their human rights. This occurs in mandatory detention centres in breach of Australia’s commitment to Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution” (United Nations 1995 p.1). A large number of asylum seekers are genuine refugees that are fleeing from atrocities such as torture, rape, imprisonment, threats of death and murder. Australia’s mandatory detention policy in conjunction with the lack of facilities and health treatment aggravates the trauma of these experiences and severely affects the mental health and well-being of asylum seekers. Furthermore, Australia’s lack of cooperation in providing facilities violates international human rights standards (UNHCR 2014). Recently, the movement of thousands of Syrian refugees make their way into Europe via Hungary was stopped and held in detention-like environment increasing asylum seekers trauma (Al Jazeera 2006). It is essential for nations to accept asylum seekers and provide them with care and facilities as they endure traumatizing experiences and flee prosecution.

Figure 1.2 – Irregular arrivals by sea, selected countries (Phillips 2015)

Figure 1, (Irregular arrivals by sea, selected countries) shows the approximate number of refugees entering Australia and four other countries.  According to the figure, there is a great difference in the number of refugees entering the five countries. Further noted in Figure 1.2, the data provides information on the fluctuating number of refugees entering a country in a particular year within the given 7 years. This suggest that the refugee inflow into a country depends on the country’s refugee acceptance policy. However, in the case of Australia, there is a progressive increase in the number of refugees entering despite the stricter border policies.

  1. Lengthy delays and offshore processing  

The length of time spent at detention centres by asylum seekers is indefinite and this aggravates the trauma as they remain uncertain of their future (Couldrey &Herson 2013, p.7). In Australia there are long processing steps where the asylum seekers are interrogated of their reasons of arrival. This lengthens the time spent at detention centres for getting a humanitarian visa. From figure 1, Australia is one of the countries with lower asylum seeker intake. Despite the increase in asylum seekers entering Australia, it remains the only western country to have a mandatory detention policy.  Mandatory detention can take place by detaining asylum seekers offshore. A piece of legislation was passed requiring all asylum seekers arriving on Australian shores are sent to offshore processing facilities (Kaldor 2014, p.3). This legislation puts strain on asylum seekers by detaining them in centres with inadequate facilities but also on the finances of the Australian government (Kaldor 2014, p.4). The lengthy processing system and sending asylum seekers offshore for processing is a disadvantage for both the government and asylum seekers.

Issue Outcomes

  1. Mental Health Issues

Mental health is a significant factor that needs to be addressed by the host nations’ government. Placing asylum seekers in detention centres for a long duration of time without providing the adequate facilities has a significant negative impact on asylum seeker’s mental health and well-being (Cornelis et al. 2004, p.848). Despite Australia’s low intake of asylum seekers, it has adopted harsh laws that fuel the trauma faced by asylum seekers. Some of the detention centres in Australia are located in remote regions where facilities are not easily accessible hence the asylum seekers are not able to address their mental health issues (Keller et al. 2003, p.1721). Research conducted 2 years ago shows that refugees living in Australian detention centres, suffered up to 19 chronic mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and social anxiety disorder. During the initial stages of the research, approximately 42% of adults and 59.1% of children showed symptoms of mental health disorder (Hadgkiss et al. 2012, p.17). This result conveys that children are more vulnerable and are largely affected by mental health illnesses due to their experiences and lengthy stay at the detention centres.

  1. Social cohesion

Asylum seekers who stayed in detention centres for a long duration and with inadequate facilities showed a slower rate of integrating into a new country as interviewed by the VU University Medical Centre of research due to mental health issues (Gerritsen & Bramsen 2005, p.14). Those diagnosed with mental health issues could not easily or comfortably integrate into the new society. Close examinations of research suggests that the lack of facilities hinders the asylum seekers ability to enter a new society as most of them come from backgrounds where they have not had a chance to educate themselves. At the detention centres asylum seekers are kept idle and in solitary confinement which fuels their insecurities therefore inhibiting them to find opportunities and success once they are out of detention centres. Research also shows that many young asylum seekers between the ages of 6 to 15 that have come out of detention centres show a slower rate of learning in comparison to the local students (Couldrey & Herson 2013, p.9). Inadequate facilities degrades asylum seekers in an effective transition into a better lifestyle.


  1. Mental Health Treatment

Treatments and heath care facilities can reduce the impact of major issues such as pre-migration trauma, depression and anxiety. Such treatments at detention centres not only benefits the asylum seekers but also the Australian society as it is cost effective and creates jobs for Australian medical and health professions (Hadgkiss et al. 2012, p.23). Cases of mental health illness can reduce an individual life expectancy and can also lead to various other problems such as suicidal thoughts and violence. However, installation of programs that allows the asylum seekers to address their mental health issues can improve their mental health and also their lifestyle once they are released from detention centres. Key findings in studies show that the number of mental health issues such as alcohol abuse, drug abuse and violence reduces where proper treatment is provided which can be accessed (Keller et al. 2003, p.1722). This important step of providing health care will allow asylum seekers to integrate into the society.

  1. Workplace skill development

It is important to provide facilities that contribute to gaining skills so that when asylum seekers enter the new society, they are better able to find jobs and there is reduced imbalance in socio-economic status (Gerritsen & Bramsen 2005, p.15). The lengthy processing time could be effectively used by the host nation’s government to install educational facilities that engage asylum seeker in workplace and work related skills such that they can find jobs much easier when they are out of detention centres. It is also important to provide education and language skills for young asylum seekers so that language does not act as a barrier but as an aid to get opportunities. It is vital to engage young asylum seekers in education as this will empower them and decrease the gap between them and Australian schooling standards (Phillips 2015). Taking this measure of providing facilities that may provide equal opportunity in getting employment once asylum seekers are out of detention centres is an effective way of not increasing unemployment rates and hence making a smooth transition into society.



  1. Al Jazeera 2006, Hungary seizes refugee train arriving from Croatia, viewed on 18 September 2015, <>
  2. United Nations 1995, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, viewed on 15 September 2015, <>.

Journal Articles

  1. UNHCR 2014, ‘War’s Human Cost’, UNHCR Global Trends 2013, viewed on 10 September 2015, <>
  1. Phillips, J. 2015, ‘Asylum seekers and refugees: what are the facts?’, Parliamentary Library of Australia, viewed on 8 September 2015, <>.
  1. Keller, A., Rosenfeld, B. & Trinh-Shevrin, C. 2003, ‘Mental health of detained asylum seekers’, The Lancet, vol. 12, no. 362, pp. 1721-1723, viewed on 15 September 2015, <>
  1. Couldrey, M. &  Herson, M. 2013, ‘Detention, alternatives to detention, and deportation’, Forced Migration Review, vol. 18, no. 44, pp. 4-14, viewed 15 September 2015, <>
  1. Cornelis, J., Bettine, A., Hajo, B., Gernaat, E. & Ivan, H. 2004, ‘Impact of a Long Asylum Procedure on the Prevalence of Psychiatric Disorders in Iraqi Asylum Seekers in the Netherlands’, NERVOUS & MENTAL DISEASE, vol. 13 no. 12, pp. 843-851, viewed on 5 September 2015, <>
  1. Hadgkiss, E., Lethborg, C., Al-Mousa, A. & Marck, C. 2012, ‘Asylum seeker health and well-being’, St Vincent’s Health, vol. 24, no. 1, pp. 17-31, viewed on 20 September 2015, <>
  1. Kaldor, A. 2014, ‘Offshore processing: Australia’s obligations with respect to asylum seeker children who may be sent to Nauru’, Never Stand Still, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 1-9, viewed on 20 September 2015, <>
  1. Gerritsen, A. & Bramsen, I. 2005, ‘Physical and mental health of Afghan, Iranian and Somali asylum seekers and refugees living in the Netherlands’, Original Paper, vol. 20, no. 3, pp. 12-19, viewed on 19 September 2015, <>


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