Asylum seekers ‘becoming more desperate’

The situation in overcrowded detention centres is a “powder keg”, Australian of the Year and mental health expert Professor Patrick McGorry says, as reports emerge the men protesting on Villawood’s rooftop are becoming increasingly agitated.


Two men have been taken to hospital after ending their rooftop protest at Sydney’s Villawood detention centre. Nine men remain, after beginning their protest over 24 hours ago.

All are facing deportation, and say they want their cases reviewed.

Reports coming out of Villawood in Sydney say the men are becoming increasingly agitated. TV footage showed one of the men in a a clearly agitated state being restrained by his compatriots.

Protective mats have been placed around the detention centre.

Australian of the Year Patrick McGorry has told SBS threats of self-harm show the fragility of the asylum seekers’ mental health.

“It [self-harm] is a manifestation of desperation and the deteriorating of very poor mental health,” Professor McGorry has told SBS.

The mental health expert says self-harm can be triggered by stresses brought on by the asylum process, or by having claims rejected.

The NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS) estimates that between 70 and 90 per cent of refugees coming to Australia have experienced trauma or torture in their home countries.

“The main problem with detention is when it goes for a longer period of time,” Clinical psychologist and STARTTS Executive Director Jorge Aroche has told SBS.

“When they begin to spend longer time in detention, and they [asylum seekers] and they don’t understand why they’re in detention, then that begins to play havoc with their emotions, they feel in limbo, and they feel completely out of control,” Mr Aroche says.

Both Mr Aroche and Professor McGorry say extended periods of mandatory detention and a sense of uncertainty surrounding the outcome of asylum claims can have a devastating effect on the mental health of refugees.

“I think these detention centres with overcrowding and significant levels of rejection of refugee claims, they’re like powder kegs,” Professor McGorry says.

“The situation’s volatile and very difficult to manage and contain,” he says.

“I think it’s inevitable when people spend long periods in detention, they will become desperate, they will resort to desperate measures to have their point of view heard,” Mr Aroche says.

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