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Use of Royal Darwin Hospital emergency department by immigration detainees in 2011

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Several thousand people arrive in Australia without a visa each year and seek asylum by applying for recognition as refugees. While awaiting processing, these asylum seekers are involuntarily detained by the Australian Government for periods ranging from 1–2 months to several years, and, in 2011, the majority of detainees had been in detention for at least 6 months.1 Previous studies have shown a high burden of physical and psychiatric morbidity — especially mental health problems, self-harm and suicide attempts — in asylum seekers, particularly those held in immigration detention.25

Darwin, in the Northern Territory, receives a substantial proportion of the asylum seekers who arrive in Australia and on Christmas Island by boat, and had two major immigration detention facilities in 2011. The first, the Northern Immigration Detention Centre, is a high-security detention centre that houses men, and has a capacity of 456 people. The second, Darwin Airport Lodge, houses families and unaccompanied minors, and has a capacity of 435 people. A third major facility opened in Darwin at Wickham Point in December 2011, and has a capacity of 1500 people. In a 2010 report, the Australian Human…