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2018 APS Congress

The 2018 APS Congress will be held in Sydney from Thursday 27 to Sunday 30 September 2018


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Refugees and asylum seekers

The health and human rights of refugees and asylum seekers are a major concern of the APS.

Refugees often have high levels of trauma prior to (and during) migration, with adverse effects on their mental health and wellbeing.

Well-documented evidence shows the deleterious effects immigration detention has on the mental health and wellbeing of asylum seekers, particularly those who are already vulnerable, such as children, or those with pre-existing trauma or mental illness. Waiting indefinitely for refugee claims to be processed can also be detrimental to mental health.

Key points

  • The APS Code of Ethics (2007) mandates that psychologists respect and protect people’s human rights (General Principle A), avoid unfair discrimination (Standard A.1.1), demonstrate knowledge of the consequences of unfair discrimination (Standard A.1.2) and assist clients to address unfair discrimination (Standard A.1.3).
  • The vulnerability of people seeking asylum and the related likely incidence of mental health problems among refugees is based on loss and trauma before and after arrival in Australia. This may be expressed in various ways.
  • There is overwhelming evidence that detention has an independent, adverse effect on mental health, over and above any pre-existing illness or trauma. This is compounded when detention is offshore and in remote locations.
  • Positive and accurate representation of refugee issues in the media is critically important to combat negative stereotypes of refugees and asylum seekers.
  • The destructive consequences of racism and xenophobia, for both populations and individuals, can be highlighted by making clear the adverse public health and mental health consequences of such prejudices. Identifying the personal stories and resilience of refugee communities and the contributions made by refugees to the broader community may offset these impacts.
  • Psychologists have long played a role in the resettlement of refugees and asylum seekers through counselling, support and advocacy.

How the APS is involved

The APS has been involved in a range of support and advocacy activities in relation to refugees, including:

  • contributing to public inquiries into aspects of immigration detention and refugee policy
  • public statements and media releases
  • representation on the Detention Health Advisory Group that developed evidence-based policies and procedures on detainee health and wellbeing
  • the establishment of a Refugee Issues and Psychology Interest Group
  • linking psychologists with refugee services/organisations.

The APS has voiced concerns about the harmful effects of immigration detention on the mental health and wellbeing of asylum seekers, particularly those who are already vulnerable.

The APS has also argued for positive and accurate representation of refugees and refugee issues in the media and in government policies. This is linked to the successful settlement and wellbeing of refugees in multicultural Australia.