Demise of Asylum Seekers’ Health Advisory Group Criticised
17 December 2013 at 10:58 am
The Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) has expressed deep concern over the Coalition Government’s decision to disband a key advisory group responsible for overseeing the health of asylum seekers in Australia.
Last week 11 members of the Immigration Health Advisory Group (IHAG), comprising expert medical professionals, psychiatrists, psychologists, GPs and an observer from the Commonwealth Ombudsman, were stood down, leaving only the Chair in the role.
The IHAG was established in 2006 in response to recommendations of the Palmer and Comrie inquiries into serious failings in the immigration detention system.
RCOA Chief Executive Officer Paul Power said replacing the IHAG’s multi-disciplinary medical expertise would be difficult.
“The IHAG has played a critical role in observing conditions faced by asylum seekers in detention, in designing, implementing and monitoring health care services for asylum seekers in detention and in the community as well as newly-settled humanitarian entrants,” he said.
“The Department needs to demonstrate what arrangements will be put in place to replace the IHAG and how this will serve as an effective independent voice to ensure that general and mental health services meet the needs of asylum seekers.”
Power said the demise of IHAG added to concerns expressed by RCOA’s members about the direction of Australia’s policies towards asylum seekers and refugees.
“Early indications suggest that the new Government is increasingly using a more punitive approach to detention, both offshore and in Australia, to achieve its policy objectives. This creates a serious risk of replicating the unsustainable pressures placed on the immigration detention network a decade ago,” he said.
“When asylum seekers languishing in long-term indefinite detention are not given a clear indication of when they will be released, their mental health rapidly deteriorates and pressures on the detention network can explode into the crises experienced in 2010-11 and between 1999 and 2004.
“The long-term indefinite detention of people who have asked Australia for refugee protection has proven repeatedly to create a set of circumstances where everyone loses – vulnerable asylum seekers, staff, agencies and decision-makers have all been damaged.
“The damage caused by long-term indefinite detention resulted in the Howard Government and its successors turning to alternatives to detention like community detention and community support for asylum seekers on bridging visas.
“The Government must not repeat the mistakes of the past. Detention should only be used as a last resort and for administrative purposes. One of the key lessons from the Palmer and Comrie inquiries was the need for accountability and transparency and taking responsibility for the care of vulnerable people who have asked Australia for protection against persecution.”