RACGP calls for end to immigration detention

Jolyon Attwooll

20/06/2023 4:03:30 PM

Advocates hope a new position statement, released on World Refugee Day, will pave the way for better care of Australia’s most marginalised patients.

Person in immigration detention
The RACGP has warned of the 'profound' impacts of detention on asylum seekers. Image: AAP Photos

The RACGP has underlined the acutely damaging effect of mandatory detention in a document setting out its stance for addressing asylum seeker and refugee healthcare.
In its updated position statement, the RACGP explicitly says it does not ‘condone or support’ the system of compulsory detainment, which has been in place since 1992.
‘There is a significant body of evidence that demonstrates the adverse mental and physical health impacts of immigration detention, particularly prolonged detention, on people seeking asylum,’ the statement reads.
‘The impacts of detention can be profound, particularly for the most vulnerable, including children and adolescents, pregnant women, and individuals with previous experiences of torture and trauma.’
The document, Healthcare for people from refugee backgrounds and people seeking asylum, also endorses the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) strategy to end the detention of asylum-seekers and refugees around the world.
It was published this Tuesday (20 June) to coincide with World Refugee Day.
The college acknowledges healthcare is currently required in immigration detention facilities, and notes its standard for health services in Australian immigration detention facilities ‘to optimise delivery of healthcare’ to detainees.
Among other suggestions, the college calls for more consistency across jurisdictions, improved equity of access, and a greater capacity to respond to evolving health emergencies.
Specific recommendations include:

  • the creation of a National Refugee Health and Wellbeing Framework
  • giving full access to both Federal and state-funded health services for people seeking asylum once they have lodged a claim for protection
  • increased funding for language/interpreter services
  • better data collection, with the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare recommended to collect a minimum dataset to allow annual reporting on the healthcare needs of refugees and people seeking asylum
  • training in care for people from a refugee background, including those seeking asylum, in undergraduate, postgraduate, and professional medical education programs
  • identifying recognised pathways for International Medical Graduates (IMGs) from a refugee background to enter the Australian health workforce.
Dr Rebecca Farley, Chair of RACGP Specific Interests Refugee Health, said that while Australia is fortunate to have a world-class healthcare system, work is needed to tackle inequities.
‘GPs have a key role to play in caring for people who are seeking asylum and refugees across Australia, but they need to be supported to deliver this care,’ she said.
‘Improved coordination between Commonwealth and state agencies and relevant peak bodies, along with improved reporting of cultural and linguistic diversity is essential to support a more consistent, equitable and integrated approach to the delivery of refugee healthcare across Australia.
‘This will enable us to improve our capacity to respond to health and humanitarian crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, Afghan evacuation and war in Ukraine.’
Dr Kate Walker, a GP who has worked long-term in refugee health and is a former chair of the same Specific Interests group, also welcomed the college’s stance.
‘The statement is really comprehensive,’ she told newsGP.
‘It’s a wonderful culmination of a huge number of people’s work in refugee health for many years.
‘The timing is particularly useful to ensure the many innovations during the COVID-19 pandemic are progressed.
‘It will be a fantastic roadmap for advocacy in refugee health moving into the future.’
In the RACGP statement, a lack of continual access to Medicare is described as an ‘additional barrier’ to people seeking asylum.
‘Consistent access to Medicare, and therefore consistent access to affordable healthcare, reduces uncertainty, improves engagement with health services, and reduces the high economic costs of delayed access to care, particularly to preventive care,’ the college states.
‘While some states provide access to state-funded services for people seeking asylum ineligible for Medicare this is inconsistent across the country.’
Mohammad Al-Khafaji, Co-Chair of The Australian Multicultural Health Collaborative, also believes those inconsistencies need to be addressed.
‘The Australian Multicultural Health Collaborative joins RACGP in its call and highlights the critical need for an integrated approach with a community-based healthcare navigation system that is trusted by refugee and asylum seekers and provides services and supports in their preferred language,’ he said.
‘We also acknowledge the great work already done by the refugee health sector who have for years advocated and provided critical service to refugees and people seeking asylum.
‘We look forward to working with them and RACGP to advocate for better outcomes for refugee communities.’
According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, there were 1061 people in immigration detention facilities at the end of January this year, with an average detention time of 806 days. The organisation said more than half had been detained for a period of 366 days or longer.
The RACGP position statement is due for review in 2026.
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Dr Mylapanahalli Krishnappa Shivashankaraiah   21/06/2023 6:12:46 AM

There is a reason why immigration laws are formulated by countries across the world. Look at what is happening in Europe where the refugees were let in hoards. Australia has a fair immigration system that effectively stopped boats from arriving with illegal refugees. RACGP should confine to medical education and provision of quality care to all Australians. It should advocate for IMG's.

Dr Katriona Mae Wylie   21/06/2023 1:01:06 PM

Thank you for the leadership RACGP. Mandatory detention is inhumane and a great shame for our nation.