A 39 year old man from Iran arrived by boat in 2013. He was not permitted to apply for a Temporary Protection Visa until 2017. For six years he has lived in fear and struggled with mental trauma. He has no protection, no income, no social support and no family. He believes he has no hope – and suicide is an option.
There are currently 8,985 people nationally waiting for a decision by the Department of Home Affairs and 3,350 of these are in NSW. The Government’s delay in processing their applications was the cause of this huge backlog in the first place. But now, combined with the recent 60% cutbacks in financial support, we are witnessing the longer term impacts on their mental health.
The Asylum Seekers Centre supports a significant number of people in this group,and has been providing up to $35,000 per month to minimise the impact of these cuts. With absolutely no income, many people, including children, face immediate destitution and poverty,” she said.
Every day we see the depth of their despair and extreme hopelessness. Many already have a history of trauma as a result of incarceration, physical and psychological torture. But the Department’s lack of effective and efficient processing has a further devastating impact on their depression and anxiety.
Since 2017 we have seen around 14 single men from Iran and Sri Lanka, who are part of the Legacy Caseload, attempt suicide.
An increasing number of people are presenting at the Centre with ongoing psychological distress directly linked to the prolonged waiting period. And even if the Australian Government does acknowledge them as refugees, they will only be given a temporary visa and there is no chance they will ever be reunited with their family whilst they remain in Australia.
People present with chronic distress: low mood, inability to maintain work, chronic insomnia, fatigue and poor concentration. Several men have overdosed on medications. One person had to be removed from the railway tracks and was later hospitalised due to suicidal feelings. Three men overdosed on poison – feeling helpless, hopeless and unable to keep going. They are living in fear of being forced to return to their country of origin while continuing to wait for a decision on their applications.
People are presenting with the generalised sense that suicide is a reasonable option for them. It has become the last resort for those who feel trapped and see no future or reason to live.
Sadly, they thought that coming to Australia would be a better life. All they wanted was to be safe and contribute to society. It is very clear that going back to their home country is not an option as they believe they will be harmed or killed.”
As a major service provider in NSW for people seeking asylum, the ASC calls on the Government to:
Develop a faster and more efficient process to determine whether an individual is a refugee.
Provide people seeking asylum with adequate support during the waiting period to avoid increasing the extreme stress they are already experiencing.
The Centre provides practical and personal support for people living in the community who are seeking asylum. We are currently supporting more than 4,000 people, less than 10% of whom are eligible for even the most limited income support from the government. This includes 529 families and a total of 942 children.
Francis Rush is CEO of the Asylum Seekers Centre, Sydney.