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Detaining refugees is ineffective – expert

New Zealand Government’s proposed group detention policy appears to be following the failed policies of Australia, says an international authority on detained asylum seekers.

Professor Derrick Silove  is in New Zealand to warn New Zealand politicians they have a lot to learn from failures across the Tasman.

“Instead of providing rehabilitation for refugees, governments have gone to costly lengths to reproduce the environment of fear from which these people have fled, hindering psychological recovery,” he says.

Derrick is the director of psychiatry research and teaching at the Mental Health Centre at the University of New South Wales. He is coming to New Zealand as the keynote speaker at the fifth International Asian and Ethnic Minority Health and Wellbeing Conference 2012, hosted by the University of Auckland.

Derrick has helped in setting up services for traumatic stress among refugees in Australia and internationally in post-conflict societies, such as Timor Leste.

He has led teams to study the effects of Australian detention policies on women and children in refugee camps.

“Centres in Australia, such as the newly established facility in Woomera, are situated in isolated areas surrounded by barbed-wire fences with huge distances limiting access by social, health and legal services,” Derrick says.

“Detainees in this and other centres around the world face undefined periods of social and cultural isolation while often being denied access to work and study.

“They live in constant uncertainty about their futures with the ever-present threat of being forced back home.

“Alternative systems to detention have been tested and already are in place in many countries such as systems that monitor asylum seekers living in the community, lodging financial bonds by families, friends, or humanitarian agencies to ensure refugee applicants follow immigration procedures and even temporary forms of asylum.”

Derrick says each provision allows asylum seekers to live with dignity and a degree of freedom in the community.