Occupational Deprivation is not a solution

On Friday 19 July 2013 the Australian Government announced that asylum seekers arriving by boat would be detained in Papua New Guinea and settled there once found to be refugees.

Indefinite detention followed by settlement in a nation where refugees there is no lawful protection of the rights for work, education, housing, and freedom of movement is the political use of occupational deprivation: trading deterrence of future asylum claims for votes  - at the expense of harming health, human rights, and humane society.

This is in contrast to the World Federation of Occupational Therapy position paper on Human Displacement (2012) calls practitioners to ensure “occupational needs and rights of the displaced people are respected, protected, and fulfilled in their country”.  Occupational deprivation is not a solution.

Whilst the rhetoric is about "saving lives", Howard's "Pacific Solution" was condemned and dismantled for a reason. It destroyed the mental health of some of the world’s most vulnerable people, leading to self-harm and suicide. Research showed this cohort had worse health years later.

Read the 22 recommendations of the Houston Report accepted by the government- here and the Refugee Council of Australia's analysis of the progress, concerns, and questions left outstanding here. Australia's Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Council has a report about community alternatives to detention here.

In July 2013 the United Nations Human Rights Committee from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights stated (page 7) that "Australian law should be amended to: eliminate mandatory detention; require an individual assessment of the necessity of detention; inform detainees of the substantive reasons for their detention; require periodic independent review of the necessity of detention; require consideration of less invasive alternatives to detention; provide for substantantive and effective judicial review of edtnetion and of adverse security assessments; and take measures for the more effective protection of family and children's rights."

As a citizen you can speak up with Amnesty and Get Up but OTs have special concerns and mandate re occupational implications of policy. Occupational deprivation of asylum seekers with indefinite detention off-shore is not a solution. We know better. 

Australian OTs are invited to speak up below. Together our dissent is a gift to be given to our profession, political parties, and the public. Print paper dissent forms to have OT colleagues sign. Email them back to Please view and share our dissent album on Facebook.


View Occupational deprivation is not a solution: Register of dissenting OTs in a larger map

About Detention

All over the world, the use of immigration detention has increased dramatically in the last decade. (See Forced Migration Review Issue 44; Detention, alternatives to detention, and deportation)

While states have a sovereign right to control their borders, and if necessary to use immigration detention for these purposes, they are obligated to do so in compliance with international human rights law. The United Nations Human Rights Council has a Special Rapporteur for Migrants, who reports here in 2012 that:

"The Special Rapporteur would like to emphasize that there is no empirical evidence that detention deters irregular migration or discourages persons from seeking asylum. Despite increasingly tough detention policies being introduced over the past 20 years in countries around the world, the number of irregular arrivals has not decreased." 

People are often detained when arriving irregularly, waiting for refugee status determination, or prior to deportation. Because, refugees and stateless people have no safe county (in the case of refugees) or no nation-state at all (in the case of stateless people) to return too. As such, they are vulnerable to being detained arbitarily, and in some cases indefinitely.

The United Nation's Human Rights Council is clear (pg 7) that "that under no circumstances should administrative detention of migrants be indefinite." and that "when it is impossible to remove a migrant due to reasons which are beyond his or her control, the migrant should not be detained." Immigration detention, whilst "administrive", exacts a high toll on dignity, rights, occupational opportunities and health.

A man detained at the Northern Immigration Detention Centre in Darwin, made the following request of Commission staff (speech here):

“My humble request. Find a solution for us before we completely lose our minds. So in future I can help myself and my family. So if accepted as refugees we can make a contribution to this country as well. If we are healthy we can make a good contribution to Australian society. If we lose our minds and are not able to help ourselves, how can we make a contribution?”

Formal monitoring has an important role given the potential for serious human rights breaches - some matters can be resolved locally, others need formal advocacy with government. Visitors are an informal and important means of monitoring and should be aware of the UN's standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners.

"Australia’s system of mandatory and indefinite immigration detention itself breaches international human rights standards, particularly the right to be free from arbitrary detention. Prolonged and indefinite detention of vulnerable people in remote locations contributes to potential breaches of other fundamental rights, and has seriously detrimental impacts on the mental health of people in detention." ~ Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Commission speech here

The Human Rights Council, Special Rapporteur for Migrants explicitly encourages civil society (pg 20), of which the profession of occupatinal therapy is a part:

".. .to continue their efforts to document and study the violations and abuses that migrants suffer in the context of detention, continue monitoring good practices of alternatives to detention, develop and continue assistance programmes to migrants deprived of their liberty, including legal aid, translation services and social and psychological assistance and visit regularly migrant holding centres and penitentiaries where irregular migrants are held." 

UNHCR Detention Guidelines

Detention Guidelines; Guidelines on the Applicable Criteria and Standards relating to the Detention of Asylum-Seekers and Alternatives to Detention. UNHCR, 2012. In contrast, below is an infographic about Australia's use of occupational deprivation to explicitly deter people from arriving by boat to seek asylum.


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