There are currently more refugees and asylum seekers fleeing persecution, violence and war around the world than ever before. The largest refugee groups experiencing never ending displacement are made up of innocent men, women and children fleeing from Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Somalia and Myanmar. For Australia, refugees and asylum seekers have been an unpopular topic for quite some time now. A simple scroll of Pauline Hanson’s political feeds and the Liberal party will give you enough insight to understand what the current attitudes towards this issue are. It’s a divisive political topic, and one thats done all but exhaust itself. But is that okay? Absolutely not. There are lives here at stake, there are sick children in need of medical attention, and what have we done to assist? From a humanists perspective, not much.

Overtime it seems as though the average Australian has become desensitised to hearing about the refugee crisis. The real problem here is that this is more than just a simple issue, it’s a human crisis which exists at the junction of shifting political opinion. There are millions of children, women and men who are displaced and have been forced to escape their homelands due to war that has polluted their health and security and for some, even stolen the lives of their loved ones.

The 1951 convention relating to the status of refugees is the foundation of international refugee law. It determines what makes a ‘refugee’ and establishes the principle that refugees should not be forcibly returned to a territory where their lives or freedom would be threatened.
The UN Refugee Agency states that when governments are unable to or unwilling to protect the rights of its citizens, forcing them to flee and seek safety elsewhere, another country has to step in to ensure that the refugees’ basic rights are respected. This is known as “international protection”.

The Australian government is notorious for disregarding these international rules, and has breached multiple articles of the universal declaration of human rights and the international covenant on civil and political rights. Australia will most likely continue to violate the rights of refugees until the Government rids its current inhumane offshore and mainland processing of refugees to better standards and admits to its faults.

What is perhaps most damaging for these asylum seekers, and what the Australian Human Rights Commission highlights, is the high likelihood of them experiencing mental health problems. On their website it states, ‘Some groups in Australia are particularly vulnerable to human rights abuses. They include: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, asylum seekers, migrants from non-English speaking backgrounds, those living in poverty, people with a disability, and other groups.’

The struggle to adjust and to establish a new life in a foreign country can be distressing, if not traumatising. Many refugees face downward social mobility as their professional credentials and experience are not always recognised when it comes to employment and education opportunities.

Intergenerational and identity crises are bound to happen for families who face the pressure to assimilate to our ‘Aussie way of life’. Furthermore, racism and discrimination are common mistreatments refugees are disadvantaged by. If you’re in doubt of Australia ever being a racist country, please have a look at Australian Liberal Party politician Peter Dutton, who is now serving as home affairs minster in the Morrison Government. The Australian government seems to have a fruit loop of handpicked racist politicians whose conscience lacks compassion.

Refugees from non english speaking backgrounds are more susceptible to experiencing PTSD, high levels of trauma, anxiety and depression. There are many factors that influence the state of their mental health, some will have spent many years in refugee camps or in detention, others having come from countries of war and violence. Often they have had little or no healthcare access, either in their country of origin or in the country they subsequently fled to. This experience has shown to have negative health outcomes on both parents and young children. Asylum seekers and refugees have also lost the housing, income, and position in a society they once knew, they’ve lost their employment, social support systems, cultural norms, religious customs, and language. Many will find it difficult to adjust to life in a new country after a prolonged period as a refugee due to experiencing loneliness, grief, and loss of inner peace. They may also face hostility when trying to resettle into new communities due to their differences and many will have suffered psychological trauma through the death or separation of family.

The deteriorating mental health of refugees both in Australia and on neighbouring islands as forced resettlement is a devastating ongoing problem that will only continue to increase. The United Nations Refugee Convention says countries shall not punish people for seeking asylum. It also says countries should never return refugees to their own country of origin. We should be appalled that our country punishes children because their parents dared flee persecution and war. If those children are left with permanent mental health problems as a result of their prolonged detention, it should be on our conscience along with our governments.

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