Online proceedings for the IRCT General Assembly and 10th International Scientific Symposium - Delivering on the Promise of the Right to Rehabilitation

Time: 11:50 to 12:10 Download Poster Presentation

"There is no worse torture than not knowing...": The waiting game of Australia's border protection policies and the effects on trauma and recovery

Presenter(s) and co-author(s): Mr. Andres Leal ( Torture and trauma support service of Christmas Island - Australia )


In its eagerness to protect the country against the invisible enemy of terrorism and to deter asylum seekers from coming to Australia “illegally'”, successive governments have introduced stronger border protection policies, including the re-opening of offshore processing centres. Immigration policy changes were presented to Australians as an attempt to stop deaths at sea but this was really a move towards a far more harsh method for controlling illegal migration, deter asylum seekers and undermine the people smuggling trade. Policy changes have created new traumas for thousands of asylum seekers already suffering from Acute Stress Disorder, Long Detention Fatigue, grief and PTSD.


A qualitative study based on observations and case note examples of the experiences of over 200 clients seen from August 2013 to July 1st 2015. The paper will discuss Australia's current migration policies and how they are psychologically destroying asylum seekers in offshore processing centres. Trauma counselling and group work methods providing vital support to survivors of torture and trauma will be outlined. Limitations to counselling and advocacy, such as the harsh environment of offshore detention and government policy will be explored. Unknown waiting periods with no established time limit for the assessment of their claims processing and the silence surrounding any immigration decision, has created new traumas for the asylum seekers as a result of the uncertainty about their future and not knowing when they will be able to move on from their past. Prolonged detention not only destroys the psyche but has also become one of the main reasons for asylum seekers to “voluntarily'” go back to their country of origin where they could face possible torture and death.


Australia's immigration policies of offshore processing and indeterminate detention processing have created new traumas for an already traumatized group of asylum seekers. Asylum seekers have suffered self-harm, re- traumatization, isolation, clinical depression and suicidal ideation amongst other conditions; uncertainty about their future has meant they cannot move on from their past and continue to relive it together with suffering further trauma and hopelessness. Prolonged detention has not only destroyed the psyche of asylum seekers but has also led to detainees “voluntarily” agreeing to go back to their country of origin, knowing they could face possible torture and death. Counselling and support services provide vital assistance to detainees but they are limited by government constraints and the detention environment.

Funding & No Conflicts Declaration

Limitations to the paper include aspects of client confidentiality and contractual agreements.

By continuing your visit to this website, you accept the use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy. Yes I accept