News / Asia

Psychiatrist Turns Spotlight on Mental Health of Children in Detention in Australia

FILE - In this Sept. 21, 2010 file photo, asylum seekers stop a fellow detainee from jumping off the Villawood Detention Center roof in Sydney, Australia, during a protest by the detainees who say they are scared of being returned to their home countries
FILE - In this Sept. 21, 2010 file photo, asylum seekers stop a fellow detainee from jumping off the Villawood Detention Center roof in Sydney, Australia, during a protest by the detainees who say they are scared of being returned to their home countries
Phil Mercer

A psychiatrist has told a Human Rights Commission inquiry that Australian immigration officials asked him to bury damning statistics about the deteriorating mental health of children in detention. Peter Young was a medical director for the immigration department for three years until he quit recently. He is the most senior figure to condemn Australia’s detention system, for would be immigrants, from within.

Mohsin, an ethnic Haraza from Afghanistan, escaped to Pakistan when he was seven.  His family was fleeing communal violence, but found itself facing new dangers.  

“I was in Pakistan.  Every day there was targeted killing, every day [a] bomb blast,” he recalled.

Desperate for safety, Mohsin then fled to Australia, arriving by boat as a child four years ago. He spent several months in immigration detention before being granted asylum.

“It is very, like, stressful and, you know, you have all the time depression. Detention center is like a jail.  Yeah, I saw many children same as my age - they were hurting themselves, you know, they were just depressed or maybe stressed,” said Mohsin.

An inquiry by Australia’s Human Rights Commission into children in detention has heard from one of the immigration department’s former chief psychiatrists, Dr. Peter Young, who alleges that officials asked him to bury damning statistics about the mental health of young detainees.

“The children themselves are more vulnerable to developing anxiety disorders, depression and a range of behavioral disorders. It was the fact that the department was quite alarmed by the disclosure of these results and I think were uncertain about what to do with them. As a result they did request that we didn’t publish them, we didn’t present them in any formal findings to them,” said Young.

Campaigners have long argued that children have no place in Australian immigration centers.

The president of the Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, said the inquiry has heard terrible stories of the effects of detention on children.

“We asked witnesses could they give us examples of self-harm or attempted suicides and one of the examples was drinking detergents. The head banging was very common. Jumping off heights. We heard others of plastic bags over the head, using the hijab to hang. There were example after example,” said Triggs.

Immigration officials insist that young detainees are well cared for in detention.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said claims of a cover-up over the mental health of children will be thoroughly investigated.

“Testimony will be provided, testimony will be tested, there will be a report that's conducted and I will look at that.  And I've always said - now I've had the Red Cross, I've had others at these centers, Save the Children, and they've come to me, in meetings that I've held with them, they've made good suggestions and I've taken those suggestions up and we've improved the conditions, not only on Nauru, but on Christmas Island as well.  Remember, it was our government that got the children to school on Christmas Island. When I became minister, there was no funding for those children to go to school every single day,” said Morrison.

The government Tuesday said it would release some children, currently held in locked detention, back into the community.

The move has been given a cautious welcome by rights groups.  The changes only apply to youngsters under 10 and only to those who arrived in Australia before last July.

It will apply to around 150 children, but it leaves another 500 in detention in Nauru, on Christmas Island and in other mainland detention centers.

You May Like

FIFA Indictments Put Gold Cup Tournament Under Cloud

Experts say US indictments could lead to charges of other world soccer officials, and lead to major shakeup in sport's governance More

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

At a recent even in Seoul, border communities promoted benefits of increased cooperation and North Korean defectors shared stories of life since the war More

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: Iraq President Vows to Fight IS 'Until They Are Killed or We Die'

In wide-ranging interview with VOA Persian service reporter, Fuad Masum describes conflict as new type of fight that will take time to win More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs