MOSCOW, August 5 (RIA Novosti) – Australian immigration authorities have deliberately inflicted harm on asylum-seekers to persuade them to give up their attempts to come to the country, a former chief psychiatrist at Australia's detention centers said Tuesday in an interview with Guardian Australia.
“If we take the definition of torture to be the deliberate harming of people in order to coerce them into a desired outcome, I think it does fulfil that definition,” said Dr. Peter Young, a former director of mental health for International Health and Medical Services (IHMS), the department responsible for providing medical care to detention centers on the Australian mainland, Christmas Island, Nauru, and Manus Island.
Australia created an environment that was “inherently toxic” and used “strong coercive pressure” and “suffering” to achieve its goals, said Young .
Young explained that his three years working for the detention centers revealed several problems within the system. He claims the majority of issues are due to the immigrant department’s goal to discourage asylum-seekers from settling in Australia.
According to Young, the greatest mental damage is the amount of time detainees are kept in centers. The “window of reasonableness” is a period of six months where those detained can survive with little to no mental illnesses, explains Young. Once these six months pass, a steady deterioration in mental health attributed to a feeling of uncertainty and hopelessness occurs.
Young said IHMS figures had shown for some time that a third of adults and children in the detention system had what he labelled “a significant-level disorder.” Figures show that after a year of sitting in a detention center the likeliness of acquiring a mental disorder increases by 50 percent.
Last week the immigration department withdrew IHMS figures damaging their reputation which exposed prolonged detention damaged children and adolescents.
“But you can’t mitigate the harm, because the system is designed to create a negative mental state. It’s designed to produce suffering. If you suffer, then it’s punishment. If you suffer, you’re more likely to agree to go back to where you came from. By reducing the suffering you’re reducing the functioning of the system and the system doesn’t want you to do that,” Young said.
Martin Bowles was appointed secretary of the department in 2012 currently holding one of the most senior positions in the immigration department. Last week, Bowles appeared before an Australian Human Rights Commission inquiry where he accused the president of the Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs, of exaggerating the health conditions within detention centers.
Despite this confrontation and refusal to answer many questions, Bowles did admit a link between prolonged detention and mental illness. Bowles stated his department was doing all they could to aid the situation though Young claims Bowles’ assurance, according to his experience, is highly improbable.
The hazardous conditions within detention centers grew worse when the Nauru and Manus centers reopened in 2012 with significantly lower standards of medical care. Inpatient mental healthcare is not available on either of the islands.
In addition to long detention times and limited medical care the misuse of patients’ personal information, failure of written records regarding deterioration in patients’ mental health as a result of detention, as well as self-harm and aggression in children highlight the many troubling results of Australia’s detention centers.