The health and human rights of refugees and asylum seekers are of key concern. Refugees often have high levels of trauma prior to (and during) migration, with negative impacts on their mental health and wellbeing. What happens to asylum seekers whilst they are waiting for their refugee claims to be processed is also important. There is well-documented evidence about the deleterious effects of immigration detention on the mental health and well-being of asylum seekers, particularly those who are already vulnerable, such as children, or those with pre-existing trauma or mental illness.

APS members have involved themselves in a range of support and advocacy activities in relation to refugees over the past 10 years, and particularly since the Tampa crisis in 2001. The APS has contributed to several public inquiries into aspects of immigration detention, and is represented on the Detention Health Advisory Group that is developing evidence-based policies and procedures in regard to the health and wellbeing of detainees, particularly around suicide and self harm issues.  The APS welcomes the proposed changes to immigration detention policy that have been announced in 2008, and looks forward to their enactment in legislation.

  • APS members around the country participated in consultations to develop an APS response to the plight of refugees and asylum-seekers, whether in detention or living in the community under extremely restrictive visa conditions. A literature review on The psychological wellbeing of refugees resettling in Australia has been completed, documenting the evidence available concerning refugee mental health and wellbeing in the Australian context. The review also summarises models of best practice for psychologists who work in this area.
  • Researchers for Asylum Seekers (RAS) is a voluntary and non-profit group of predominantly psychologists concerned about the treatment of asylum seekers in Australia. Affiliated within the School of Behavioural Science, University of Melbourne, RAS aims to raise awareness of the plight of asylum seekers through forums, conferences, research and the distribution of information on asylum seeker issues.
  • A recent initiative of RAS is the edited book Yearning to Breathe Free. The book's editors, psychologists Dean Lusher and Nick Haslam, aimed to present an overview of the historical, social and political contexts that have shaped Australia's recent treatment of asylum seekers, and its psychological and humanitarian consequences. Each section features introductory commentaries from prominent names such as Malcolm Fraser, Sir Gustav Nossal, and Lyn Allison. Of particular interest to psychologists would be the chapters on the effect of detention on brain function and mental health, and a chapter on the psychology of exclusion that examines attitudes towards asylum seekers. Copies in bookstores are hard to find, so the web is the best option:
  • Psychologists wishing to support asylum seekers through volunteer counselling are in high demand. The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) in Victoria, for example, has a counselling program where asylum seekers who are unable to access any other mental health services can find support. ASRC provides training for volunteers who are experienced in trauma counselling.

APS Position Statement

Literature Review 

APS Submissions 

Resources and links