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Detention centres costly and ineffective

Detention centres costly and ineffective says world authority

An international authority on detained asylum seekers is in New Zealand this week to warn New Zealand politicians they have a lot to learn from failures across the Tasman.

Professor Derrick Silove says the New Zealand Government’s proposed group detention policy appears to be following the failed policies of Australia.

“Instead of providing rehabilitation and a supportive environment for refugees, governments have gone to elaborate and costly lengths to reproduce the environment of threat and fear from which these people have fled, hindering psychological recovery,” he says.

Professor Silove is the director of psychiatry research and teaching at the Mental Health Centre at the University of New South Whales. He is coming to New Zealand as the keynote speaker at the fifth International Asian and Ethnic Minority Health and Wellbeing Conference 2012, hosted by the University of Auckland.

Professor Silove is at the forefront of research in the field of refugee and post-conflict mental health worldwide. He has played a key role in establishing services for traumatic stress amongst refugees and conflict-affected populations and in the anxiety disorders in general in Australia and internationally in post-conflict societies, such as Timor Leste.

He has led teams to study the effects of Australian detention policies on women and children in refugee camps.

“Centres in Australia, such as the newly established facility in Woomera, are situated in isolated areas surrounded by barbed-wire fences with huge distances limiting access by social, health and legal services,” Professor Silove says.

“Detainees in this and other centres around the world face undefined periods of social and cultural isolation while often being denied access to work and study. They live in constant uncertainty about their futures with the ever-present threat of being forced back home.

“Alternative systems to detention have been tested and already are in place in many countries such as systems that monitor asylum seekers living in the community, lodging financial bonds by families, friends, or humanitarian agencies to ensure refugee applicants follow immigration procedures and even temporary forms of asylum.”

Professor Silove says each provision allows asylum seekers to live with dignity and a degree of freedom in the community.


Refugees as Survivors New Zealand (RASNZ) is an agency that provides mental health treatment and rehabilitation for refugees to New Zealand from war torn countries like Afghanistan, Iraq or Burma. RASNZ has been recognised internationally for its work.

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