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Australia under fire over refugees

Australia's treatment of refugees came under fire Thursday in two studies charging that Africans suffered discrimination and asylum seekers were psychologically scarred by being detained for years.

Australia under fire over refugees
The studies were released a day after Prime Minister John Howard announced that Australia had closed its doors to refugees from Africa until at least July next year.

The government has defended its decision to drastically cut the number of humanitarian slots for Africans by saying they found it more difficult than others to settle into Australian society.

But an academic study of refugees from war-torn Somalia said it was discrimination and a lack of support that made it hard for Africans to build a new life in Australia, leaving them lonely and isolated.

The mainly Muslim Somalis faced prejudice on religious grounds and in the workplace, as well as language problems, said University of Western Sydney psychology lecturer Renu Narchal.

"It's important that we have an understanding that immigration is a social experience that encompasses identity challenges and adjustments that often result in a struggle to make a new country feel like home," she said.

Howard has rejected suggestions of racism in the cutback, saying Australia's 13,000-a-year refugee intake was being "rebalanced" from Africa to the Middle East and Asia where the need was more acute.

But refugee groups accused the government of picking on African refugees in the lead-up to elections in an attempt to garner votes after reports of violence and crime among Sudanese groups in some cities.

The head of the aid agency World Vision Australia, Tim Costello, said it was disturbing to link the reduction in African refugees to violence in the Sudanese community and claims that they were not integrating well.

"If countries like us in the humanitarian programme take that approach, no one will take Africans," he said.

Critics also point out that far from Africa's needs easing, the Darfur crisis in Sudan alone has created so much demand that Australia filled its quota of 4,000 African refugees this year in three months.

Over the past two years the intake of Africans has been cut from 70 percent of the total refugee intake to just 30 percent.

Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews, who said more than 40,000 African refugees had come to Australia over the past five years, has not announced an admissions quota for next year.

A second study released Thursday found that the long-term detention of refugees of any nationality arriving illegally had a devastating impact on their mental health.

Australia has a policy of mandatory detention for all asylum seekers who arrive in the country by boat, many of whom spend years behind razor wire in isolated camps.

The research by a team from the University of New South Wales summarised nine clinical investigations involving about 400 detainees over a 10-year period.

Detainees, including young children, were likely to attempt suicide or suffer long-term depression which persisted for years after their release, the researchers found.

"We are doing long-term harm to vulnerable populations while putting an enormous and unnecessary burden on to community services," said team member Zachary Steel.

"There are now a number of clinical studies which show the association between detention and poor mental health."

Australia's policy of mandatory detention is regularly criticised by human rights groups as inhumane.

AFP
Last Mod: 04 Ekim 2007, 15:09
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