Intended for healthcare professionals


Detention of refugees

BMJ 2006; 332 doi: (Published 02 February 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;332:251
  1. Mina Fazel, lecturer in child and adolescent psychiatry (,
  2. Derrick Silove, director
  1. Warneford Hospital, Oxford University, Oxford OX3 7JX
  2. Centre for Population Mental Health, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2170, Australia

    Australia has given up mandatory detention because it damages detainees' mental health

    More than 7 million of the world's 17 million refugees remain “warehoused” under conditions of confinement,1 raising serious human rights issues about the treatment of people fleeing oppression. The British policy of expanding detention centres for asylum seekers adds to this concern, making it timely to consider what lessons might be learnt from Australia's recent reversal of its mandatory detention policy.

    In 2002 Australia stood alone in introducing indefinite, non-reviewable, mandatory detention for asylum seekers arriving by boat or without valid entry documents. Asylum seekers of all ages, including children, were held for years in remote detention centres. From the outset, the medical profession (clinicians, researchers, the Australian Medical Association, and specialist colleges) raised concerns that detention might adversely affect the mental health of traumatised refugees.2 Clinical observations were supported by research conducted by an Iraqi doctor held in detention3 and by Australian specialists in refugee mental health.2 4 A recent study found that …

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