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Ethical challenges for doctors working in immigration detention


To the Editor: As psychiatrists and physicians working with adults and children in mandatory, often prolonged, immigration detention, we confirm Sanggaran and colleagues’ account.1

Quality evidence from diverse, independent, multinational sources, including legal and medical investigations over two decades, finds that immigration detention:

  • contravenes multiple international conventions that Australia has signed;2
  • harms mental health of detained children and adults, and detention employees, in a process likened to torture;3
  • incurs vastly greater financial and legal costs than alternatives, and makes profits for multinational companies from desperate, traumatised people;4
  • fails to deter people from seeking asylum and is unnecessary to prevent their absconding (because they rarely abscond);2
  • compromises ethics, through mandating secrecy, neutralising advocacy and destroying independent oversight;5 and
  • fosters conditions for systematic institutional child abuse and its lifelong consequences.6

Immigration detention fails every standard of medicine — science, ethics, health economics, pragmatics and human…