Refugee advocates are partly responsible for the distress of asylum seekers, expressed variably from self harm to alleged rape claims. Their misplaced advocacy powered by an inebriated moral superiority combine with the dashed migration expectations of asylum seekers to create uncertainty and alarm. Detention itself is merely the wrapping paper.
As they are to people smugglers, asylum seekers are a mere tool for the white and wealthy, post religious Left. While smugglers are compensated in dollars, the compassionistas receive premium fuel in their quest for authenticity, a jolt to hollowed out identities. Caring outwardly about asylum seekers makes them feel good about themselves.
Recent reports in the Australian that banning family members from travelling with self harmers for treatment immediately caused a dramatic reduction in the acts suggest there had been considerable incentive for hurting oneself in the past.
The latest round of ‘I’m an Asylum Seeker, Get Me Out of Here’ will leave taxpayers with a bill of a million dollars, thanks to the human rights lawyers’ speculative tilt in the High Court to keep a Bangladeshi child and mother on Australian soil. It was the climax of renewed optimism among refugee advocates since the arrival of the new PM, hoping to exploit any cognitive dissonance he might feel. Fairfax ran a front page piece recently about self harm on Manus and Nauru, among a spike of reports about the topic. Last year Transfield changed its name for PR purposes despite lawfully executing their government contract after sustained pressure from refugee advocates, a consolation victory for opponents who refuse to accept that they have lost the debate in the public, democratic sphere.
There were multiple doctors such as paediatrician Dr David Isaacs cheekily asking to be prosecuted for speaking out about conditions in Nauru. Last year psychiatrist Dr Peter Young was the key contributor to the Human Rights Commission report fronted by Gillian Triggs. All had expressed their opposition to the policy of detention well before they’d actually visited any asylum seekers. Their views on the traumatic effects of detention relied entirely on association and wouldn’t stand up to scientific scrutiny.
It does not compute that a set of people who have been resilient through conflict zones under threat of their lives and able to travel halfway across the world by land, air and sea decompensate when a ringed, pool fence is placed around them, in spite of all their basic needs being met. The community leader, former Liberal Party candidate and Vietnamese refugee Dai Le speaks of her time as a child in a refugee camp as unremarkable: ‘We just played. We didn’t know it was bad.’
The most decrepid refugee camps around the world, places that make the centres in Manus or Nauru look like the Hilton, exhibit none of the systemic issues surrounding self harm or alleged rape that appear to erupt in the local centres, be it on the mainland or offshore.
Similar mental health problems existed among asylum seekers when the policy of temporary protection visas existed, where comparable levels of uncertainty and dashed expectations surrounding a migration outcome were present.
An interesting angle is garnered from detention workers. I have treated a multitude and they usually present through worker’s compensation after being attacked by detainees. They all say there was no self harm when asylum seekers received permanent visas during Rudd’s initial ascent to power, regardless of processing time. Christmas Island was referred to then as a ‘transit hotel’.
Most workers suffer a cognitive dissonance, having begun the job to help asylum seekers but slowly realising there was little that could be done to solve a problem around an unmet desire, one in which incredible investments of money and risk had been made. The most affected workers are those that identify with the asylum seekers, particularly those able to speak Farsi, Tamil or Arabic. They paint a clear psychological environment in detention of failed expectations and ensuing rage and resentment, further exacerbated by the shadow of fractured politics and a refugee advocacy industry baying for government blood. Despite their good intentions, the result is the spilled blood of asylum seekers.
Self harm in detention centres has overlaps with the contagion effect that can occur in high school playgrounds or online forums, exacerbating the distress already apparent. There is also a kind of detention centre status anxiety, as asylum seekers compare their situations with those around them, becoming anxious and suspicious when claims of those around them are accelerated. Self harm can be attempts at suicide, a way to relieve frustration or malingering, where it is feigned for some secondary reward. Studies have found that malingering is most common in correctional centres. The studies do not involve children, but kids are almost certainly reflecting the distress and behaviour of the adults around them.
There is no question that asylum seekers are in great distress and have few outlets to communicate it. Self harm is often rage turned on to the self. It can be unconscious. Furthermore, there can be little argument that indefinite limbo can only be harmful and serves nobody. But in detention centres we have created an artefactual space where acting out behaviours like self harm or false allegations of rape have had incentives and rewards. Even now there is the possibility of transfer to the Australian mainland for treatment and the mobilisation of aggressive refugee advocacy, who are able to justify any kind of chicanery to prevent the lawful return of detainees because they are convinced of their righteousness.
It is all the more galling when the calamitous effects of unmitigated compassion are beginning to emerge through Merkel’s policies in Europe, initiatives she is clearly regretting and looking to unwind, lest they threaten her tenure on government. It is interesting that Tony Abbott was roundly condemned when he hinted at Merkel’s excesses, yet history is showing him to be prescient.
For all the railing by refugee advocates and politically motivated doctors about detention being like prison or torture, they fail to realise that its residents could cope with Alcatraz if they knew permanent residency was imminent. Despite the Prime Minister insisting on remaining ‘resolute’ in the protection of our borders, the totemic nature of the issue means they will simply not let go.
Dr Tanveer Ahmed is a psychiatrist, author and founder of www.bddiaspora.com
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