The Mental Health of Children and Parents Detained on Christmas Island: Secondary Analysis of an Australian Human Rights Commission Data Set

Sarah Mares


This paper describes secondary analysis of previously unreported data collected during the 2014 Australian Human Rights Commission Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention. The aim was to examine the mental health of asylum-seeking parents and children during prolonged immigration detention and to consider the human rights implications of the findings. The average period of detention was seven months. Data includes 166 Kessler 10 Scales (K10) and 70 Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaires (SDQ) for children aged 3-17 and parental concerns about 48 infants. Extremely high rates of mental disorder in adults and children resemble clinical populations. The K10 indicated severe co-morbid depression and anxiety in 83% of adults and 85.7% of teenagers. On the SDQ, 75.7% of children had a high probability of psychiatric disorder, with lower conduct and hyperactivity scores than clinic populations. Sixty-seven percent of parents had concerns about their infant’s development. Correlations were not found between time detained or parent/child distress. Multiple human rights breaches are identified, including the right to health. This is further evidence of the profound negative consequences for adults and children of prolonged immigration detention. Methodological limitations demonstrate the practical and ethical obstacles to research with this population and the politicized implications of the findings.


In 2014, the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) conducted an inquiry into immigration detention of children. This paper reports secondary analysis of data not analyzed or included in the inquiry report that was collected by the AHRC in March 2014 from children and families detained on Christmas Island (CI). Data included 166 Kessler 10 Scales (K10) for adults and adolescents, and 70 Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaires (SDQ) for children aged 3-17, plus responses from parents of 48 infants to questions about their wellbeing. The human rights implications are discussed.


The UNHCR reports that 65.3 million people around the world are currently displaced, including 20 million already identified as refugees. More than half are children.[1] Australia is a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention (1951), and in December 1990 ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).[2] The CRC rights are largely enacted in policies for Australian children but not incorporated in law. Australia maintains a generous offshore refugee resettlement program, in stark contrast to the reception given to asylum seekers arriving by boat without documentation. Numbers are small in international terms: In 2013 and 2014, Australia granted positive refugee determinations for 4,949 people, which was 88% of those who had arrived by boat.[3]

Since 1992, Australia has had a policy of mandatory indefinite detention of all children and adults arriving by boat without valid documentation. This has been extended to include offshore processing and changes to the migration zone. In September 2012, the government reinstated third country processing and announced a regional settlement arrangement (RSA) under which people arriving by boat after July 19, 2013 would be transferred to Nauru or Manus Island in Papua New Guinea for processing, precluding resettlement in Australia. Between July 2013 and December 2014, while the RSA was negotiated, adults and children remained detained in Australian mainland centers and on CI, a remote island in the Indian Ocean, northwest of Australia.

Australia’s policies and practices have been the subject of sustained criticism from local and international human rights and medical organizations, including the UNHCR.[4] For detained asylum seekers, the rights to work, education, human dignity, non-discrimination, equality, the prohibition against torture, privacy, and access to information, as well as the freedoms of association, assembly, and movement are all demonstrably compromised, with consequent impact on the right to health. There are identified breaches to the International Bill of Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the CRC, and evidence of demonstrable harm caused by indefinite detention and its consequences.[5] Recent concern has particularly focused on conditions for those held indefinitely under the RSA on Nauru and Manus Island.[6] In 2015, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment concluded in relation to the regional processing centers that “the Government of Australia…has violated the right of the asylum seekers, including children, to be free from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, as provided by articles 1 and 16 of the CAT.”[7]

The AHRC has conducted two inquiries into immigration detention of children, the first in 2002 (reported in 2004), and the second in 2014. The 2004 report states that the failure “to protect and promote the mental health and development of children … not only constitutes a breach of a child’s right to mental health, development and recovery, it also amounts to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.”[8] The AHRC found Australia in breach of multiple articles of the CRC, in particular Article 3(1), which states, “the best interests of the child must be a primary consideration in all actions concerning children.”[9]  The 2014 report identified that “the laws, policies and practices of Labor and Coalition Governments are in serious breach of the rights guaranteed by the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.” The conclusion of this inquiry aligns with scientific studies: “Prolonged, mandatory detention of asylum seeker children causes them significant mental and physical illness and developmental delays, in breach of Australia’s international obligations.”[10]

The Australian government’s responses to the two inquiries differed.[11] In 2004, evidence of the harms caused by immigration detention was considered new, and while the immigration minister disputed the findings, there was no sustained attack on the AHRC. Protective amendments to the Migration Act followed a change of government in 2007. The 2014 report was received with great hostility, including claims that the AHRC president had lost the government’s confidence and should step aside.[12] There was a sustained political attack on the AHRC with little attempt to deny the evidence that Australia’s policies cause significant harm. The Australian Border Force Act, enacted in 2015, potentially criminalized medical witnesses who spoke out about their experiences within immigration detention.[13]

Detained families and children receive health care through a government contractor, currently International Health and Medical Services (IHMS). Decisions about health needs and care provision are not transparent and there is no independent oversight or review body. Staff at IHMS and the Immigration and Border Protection system are subject to employment contracts and laws that prohibit disclosure of details surrounding detention conditions, which potentially puts them in conflict with professional standards and obligations.[14] Some doctors previously employed by IHMS have argued that health workers in immigration detention may be condoning torture.[15] In addition, given that detention itself is pathogenic, access to health care—no matter how adequate or independent—cannot sufficiently protect or treat detainees.

In mid-2014, IHMS began reporting Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K10) mental health data from detained adults to the Australian government, and starting in mid-2015, they included Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) data from children. This data was released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI), and while it was not subject to scientific scrutiny, it clearly demonstrates clinical levels of mental health problems in detained adults and children, and shows deterioration over the period of detention. SDQ screening from 45 children shows that 82% were significantly symptomatic, scoring in the abnormal or borderline range.[16]

Scientific literature

Displaced adults and children face multiple, cumulative risks, including conflict-related exposure, trauma, and losses pre-migration, in transit, and post-arrival. Host countries support or undermine their wellbeing, with post-migration detention and insecure asylum status being particularly detrimental.[17] In 2002, this author, with other colleagues, first published descriptions of the impact of the harsh physical and psychological environment within Australian immigration detention on children and families .[18] Researchers subsequently carried out small quantitative studies demonstrating that the system was causing harm to children.[19] This added to existing research about detained adults.[20] Despite their methodological variety and limitations, international studies and review papers consistently show poor mental health among asylum seekers who have been detained, and there is evidence that even brief periods of detention—including in open centers—can impact children’s functioning.[21] Rates of mental disorder are higher than in non-detained refugees with similar pre-migration risks, and length of detention is directly related to severity of symptoms.[22] Unaccompanied children, predominantly adolescents, have particular vulnerabilities due to their separation from family.[23] There is a small qualitative literature on the wellbeing of pregnant and postpartum asylum seekers, but barely any reports regarding detained infants and young children.[24] Infancy and early childhood is a period of profound dependency and rapid development, when cumulative adversity—including neglect, violence, and parental mental illness can have long-term impacts across multiple developmental domains. Infants are over-represented in displaced populations, but a review by Fazel and colleagues identifies only 5 of 44 studies that include children under five.[25]

The study


The primary data was collected in March 2014 during the AHRC National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention. The author was Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) consultant to the Inquiry and was involved in developing the methodology and collecting the data. Detailed observations made during AHRC visits to CI are reported elsewhere.[26] This study undertakes secondary analysis of data that was collected but not analyzed as part of the inquiry and was obtained under FOI in July 2015. It is therefore secondary and in the public domain. Redaction of gender and country of origin occurred before release under FOI. The project was submitted to the South Western Sydney Local Health District Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC/15/LPOOL/556), which was satisfied that the rights of participants had been protected.


Christmas Island (CI) is a tiny island in the Indian Ocean covered in dense tropical forest.  Small areas are cleared for phosphate mining, and there is a coastal settlement and diverse local population of about 2,000. Island life is dominated by the influx of staff and facilities associated with Australia’s immigration and border protection services.

Families were held in indefinite detention on CI with the threat of transfer to Manus or Nauru or resettlement in third countries. Despite their designation as Alternative Places of Detention (APOD), the camps that housed families and unaccompanied minors resembled prisons. They were harsh and cramped, surrounded by high double fences—some of which were electrified—and guards were stationed at security gates. The ground was hard and stony, there was no grass, limited shade, and white phosphate dust covered everything. Families slept in small cabins with limited privacy, some shared bathrooms. There was little for anyone to do.

In this institutionalized setting, protective experiences for children were largely absent. Risks included exposure to parental mental illness, adult violence, and self-harm; family separations; and a developmentally impoverished environment. All adults and children were woken for head counts at 11 pm and 5 am, when they had to state their ID numbers. ID cards were required when lining up for meals or medical care. Children had few places to play safely and had received only a few weeks of schooling in the previous year.

The 2014 AHRC report identifies multiple breaches of the CRC in relation to the rights to development, health, education, and treatment with humanity and dignity.[27]

Ethical considerations

Research with detained populations is difficult and contentious, as it intersects medicine, politics, human rights, ethics, and law. In Australia, there are additional practical and political barriers.[28] These include extreme access limitations associated with the often very remote and penal nature of detention centers. Restrictions are justified on the basis of security, and prevent independent scrutiny and research on the impact of Australia’s policies. If access was possible, obtaining informed consent is problematic, particularly with children, and given the extreme cultural and linguistic complexity of the population. Recent legislative changes, including the Australian Border Force Act (ABF) potentially criminalize individuals, including the author, who speak or write about the detention environment or contact with detained asylum seekers.[29]

Secondary analysis of an existing data set involves further consideration of existing data in order to answer the original research question using a different technique, or to present differing or additional interpretations. The approach has been used more with quantitative than qualitative data.[30] It raises ethical questions about consent and protection of original participants.[31] Multiple steps were taken to protect participants during primary data collection and release under FOI. It was impracticable to obtain explicit consent for this study, which was not anticipated when the data was collected. It is also impossible to identify, locate, or recontact participants. Detention of children and families on CI ceased in December 2014, and all detainees have been transferred to Nauru or Manus, returned to their country of origin, or held temporarily in Australian centers or the community. This project is consistent with the aims of the primary data collection and adequately protects participants.

Primary data collection

In March 2014, children across Australia’s immigration detention network had been detained for an average of eight months and were from 16 language groups, predominantly from Iran, Sri Lanka, Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Somalia, and a small number from Syria. The second largest group was Rohingya children, identified as stateless.[32] The AHRC inquiry obtained approval from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) to access detention centers in Australia, including CI. DIBP data shows that 1,717 detainees were held there before the AHRC visit in March 2014.[33] This included 923 single men separately detained and excluded from the inquiry. All family members and 41 unaccompanied minors (UAM, children under 18 years old without family) were invited to participate. There were 356 children aged 0 to 17 held with 438 adults (185 men and 253 women). Twenty-five infants had been born into detention and 20 women were pregnant. No processing of asylum claims had occurred since July 2013.

Interviews were conducted in language groups using interpreters. The purpose of the AHRC inquiry was explained. Informal and semi-structured interviews and brief self-report questionnaires were completed. The inquiry methodology is outlined elsewhere.[34] Self-report measures included the K10 and SDQ. Only selected questions from these measures were included during visits to other detention centers and all data was collated for the report. Therefore, K10 and SDQ data from asylum seekers on CI has not been analyzed previously.



The K10 is a self-report scale of psychological distress.[35] High distress scores indicate likelihood of a mental disorder. It has been validated in population-based and clinical populations and with a wide range of language and cultural groups, including refugee populations.[36] The SDQ is a brief behavioral screening questionnaire completed by the parent or carer, or self-reported for children aged 12-17.  It is used in population and clinical studies to identify those at risk of mental illness. The 20 items are summed to create a “total difficulty” score ranging from 0-40 and 5-factor subscales (hyperactivity-inattention, emotional symptoms, peer problems, conduct problems, and prosocial behavior).[37] It has been used with migrant and refugee children, making it an appropriate measure in this population.[38]

Secondary analysis

The AHRC provided data from 365 people under FOI. This included 174 adults, 77 without children, and 97 adults in 69 family groups. The 191 children represent 48% of the 356 children then detained on CI. Time in detention, ages of children, exposure to violence, and parental concerns was provided. Gender, individual country of origin, and language group was redacted. Complete K10s were available and analyzed for 131 adults and 35 adolescents aged 12-17, 166 in total, and 70 SDQ for children aged 3-17. Parental concerns about 48 infants were collated.


The data available for analysis has many limitations. It is not possible to determine whether this is a representative sample of the population detained on CI in March 2014; however, age and language group distribution of all children then detained in Australia was similar.[39] AHRC inquiry team members collected primary data in extremely noisy and distressing circumstances. Redaction of gender and country of origin information limits the richness of possible analysis. Levels of distress may have influenced participation. The data is incomplete in that there is only data (time in detention, SDQ and/or K10 data) for 131 adults and 105 children aged 3-17, and qualitative data on parental concerns about 48 infants. Some data was omitted or entered incorrectly during primary collection or FOI release. Five children had no age recorded, 15 are identified as UAM, yet 58 are not recorded as being part of a family and 77 of the 173 adults are not recorded as having children. This is likely to represent single women detained with the families, but may also indicate data entry errors. Oral translation of English language self-report measures by interpreters may have altered reporting. There are also minor age variations in versions of the SDQ, and in the disorderly circumstances, these were used randomly for children aged 3-17.

Statistical analyses

Demographic data was collated. K10 and SDQ data was entered into a database with incomplete data excluded. Total problem and specific symptom scores were analyzed. The SDQ was scored assuming parent report and analyzed using 5-factor analysis. Parent concerns in response to specific questions about infants were collated. Descriptive analysis of socio-demographic characteristics and mental health outcomes was undertaken to assess bivariate associations between parent and child indices. Multilevel analysis based on Actor-Partner Interdependence Model (APIM) and structural equation modelling was applied to examine for dyadic associations between parent and child outcomes.



The 129 children for whom data was available for secondary analysis included 48 infants and young children (37.2 %) aged 0-4, 52 (40.3%) aged 5-11, and 29 (22.5%) aged 12-17. Five children without recorded ages were allocated the mean age of 7.64 years (SD 4.89). There were 69 family groups (at least one adult and one child) with 36.7% of children in single-parent families, and 29.3% with two parents. A further 3.6% are identified with three adult carers, presumably grandparents or aunts. Number of children ranged from one to six per family, with 39.9% of families having one or two children. The mean length of time in detention for all adults and children was 209.5 days (7 months), with a range of 90 to 390 days and SD of 62.36. This includes infants born into detention. 

Kessler 10

There were 165 complete K10s: 139 for adults and 26 for teenaged children (aged 12-17). The prevalence of mental disorders was determined using the National Survey of Mental Health and Well-Being likelihood bands.[40] (Table 2). These results indicate very high rates of severe distress, with 83% of adults and 85.7% of teenagers indicating severe disorder. Symptom responses were ranked highest to lowest with adolescents most often reporting depressed, hopeless, and worthless, while for adults it was depressed, worthless, and tired for no good reason. When K10 items for anxiety (items 2, 3, 5, 6) and depression (1, 4, 7, 8, 9, 10) were scored (Table 3), all participants met criteria for mixed anxiety and depression. The K10 does not enable PTSD to be differentiated.




Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ)

There were 70 complete SDQ for children aged 3-17. The age distribution shows 52 (74%) aged 3-11 and 18 (26%) aged 12-17. Although it is likely some SDQ for adolescents were self-reported, this cannot be distinguished and all were scored as parent-reported. Strong correlations have been found between self- and parent-reported SDQ in one study of refugee children.[41] Fifty percent of children had abnormal total difficulty scores and another 25.7% had borderline scores; in total, 75.7% of children had a high probability of psychiatric disorder (Table 4) Symptom distribution by five-factor analysis showed high rates of emotional symptoms with 71.5% abnormal and another 7.1% with borderline emotional symptom scores, indicating 78.6% of children had significant emotional symptoms. Conduct scores were lower with 39.85% of children with borderline or high conduct symptoms, 48.6% had borderline or high hyperactivity scores and 55.7% had abnormal peer problem scores. Prosocial behaviors were abnormal in 32.9% of children.



Infants and young children (aged 0-4)

The AHRC questionnaire asked: Do you think your child’s emotional and mental health has been affected by being in detention? and Do you have concerns about your child’s development? Responses and specific concerns were collated for the 48 children under five. (Table 5) Thirty-two (67%) parents identified concerns about the impact of detention on their infant’s emotional or mental health and 11 (23%) identified concerns about development. The most frequent were socio-emotional symptoms including nightmares and sleep problems, always worried, upset or sad, fighting with others, restless, agitated. The most frequent developmental concern was poor eating/low weight gain.



This study did not find correlations between length of detention and severity of psychological distress for adults or children. (Table 6) Nor were there significant associations within families between parent K10 and paired children’s SDQ scores.



Despite many limitations, this sample is arguably worth analysis and reporting because of the extremely limited health data about detained children and parents, the human rights implications of the findings, and the impossibility of undertaking this research in conventional ways. It provides data on rates of probable mental illness, allows some description of symptom profiles, and attempts examination of data within families. Bias in the data is potentially in either direction, with under- or over-reporting of distress. It is of significant public interest that the mental health and human rights consequences of this aspect of Australian government policy are analyzed and reported in standardized, measurable ways.

As this study and the government’s own data show, immigration detention has severe health and mental health consequences for the majority of detained adults and children. Rates of psychiatric disorder in the CI sample on the K10 dramatically exceed the 12-month prevalence in the general Australian population where affective disorders have a prevalence of 6.2% with 4.1% for depressive disorder, and anxiety disorder prevalence is 14.4% with PTSD at 6.4%.[42] Rates greatly exceed those reported in a large international meta-analysis of mental health of refugees and conflict-affected people, which found a prevalence of 30.8 % for depression and 30.6% for PTSD.[43] There is evidence of the adverse effects of detention on mental health post-release, but very little data on the mental health of currently detained asylum seekers. A small Australian study of detainees from one ethnic group using other standardized self-report measures found very high rates similar to this study, with 100% of detained adults meeting criteria for major depression and 86% diagnosed with PTSD.[44]

The high SDQ total problem scores for children in this sample more closely resemble Australian clinical than community populations. Rates of mental disorder in community samples are between 9% and 14%, while a study of 130 children referred to a mental health service (CAMHS) identified 85% of children with borderline or abnormal behavioral/emotional symptoms on SDQ.[45] High symptom scores in the CAMHS group showed 72% emotional, 78% conduct, 60% hyperactivity/inattention, 64% peer relationship problems with low prosocial scores in 38%.[46] Overall problem scores are similar (75.7% of the CI sample and 85% of the clinical group) with notably lower rates of conduct (38.9% compared with 78%) and hyperactivity /inattention (46% versus 60%) symptoms than the clinic population.[47]

Distress in the CI sample was higher than in children held in open European asylum centers or in the UK community. A study of 267 asylum seekers’ children in open centers in the Netherlands found 50% of children aged 4-11 with significant symptoms, 38% in the abnormal range and 12% at borderline levels. Factors such as maternal mental health, parental loss, and family size were more important than length of detention.[48] A Danish study found that 26% of 246 children living with their families in open centers scored above caseness on total scores; 50% had significant emotional problems, 18% raised hyperactivity scores, 11% conduct problems, and 19% peer problems. Only 3% had abnormal pro-social scores.[49] A UK study of community-based migrant and refugee children using the SDQ found that 27% of refugee children, 9% of ethnic minority children and 15% of white children met case criteria.[50] Refugee children showed particular difficulties in emotional symptoms, consistent with the current study. Parents reported significant concern about their infants, and this vulnerable group deserves more attention in studies of displaced populations.

The lack of correlation between distress and time detained may represent a ceiling effect given the significant period detained and the pervasively high distress levels. The lack of correlation between parent and child distress may be explained by the statistical method (pairing one child with one parent). This is an inadequate measure of children’s exposure to adult mental illness or disturbed family relationships. In closed detention, many interacting factors in the institutionalized environment alter family functioning and therefore the quality of parent-child interactions. In addition, children were in constant proximity to many adults, 83% who were likely to have a severe mental disorder. Potential protective factors outside the family, such as schooling, were largely absent.  The available data does not enable analysis of children’s exposure to specific or cumulative risks, including factors prior to their detention by Australia.

It is important to acknowledge that K10 scores indicate 14.3% of teenaged children and 17% of adults without significant symptoms. On SDQ, almost a quarter of children were not rated as of concern. There is no information, including about family factors, which might account for apparent resilience or under-reporting in adverse circumstances. Studies of refugees in the community identify belief systems, social support, and a range of psychological strategies as important, but literature on resilience and coping in detained child and adult asylum seekers is limited.[51] The UN General Assembly Human Rights Council recently re-affirmed “The right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, and emphasizing that mental health is an integral part of that right.”[52] The harms caused to child and adult asylum seekers are no longer denied by the Australian government, and instead repeatedly justified on the grounds of deterrence.[53] The use of mistreatment as deterrent contravenes the 1985 United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) Guidelines on the Detention of Asylum Seekers, which explicitly state that this is contrary to the principles of international protection.


This study adds to the scientific literature, witness reports, and the Australian government’s own evidence of the profound negative consequences of detaining asylum-seeking children and families. There are few studies of families during prolonged immigration detention and fewer that include children under 5 years. A majority of parents had concerns about their infant’s health and /or development. K10 and SDQ scores indicate extreme rates of psychological distress and probable disorder in children and adults and teens with co-morbid anxiety and depression at clinical levels. Detention may have specific psychological impacts on children, resulting in higher rates of emotional symptoms but lower hyperactivity and conduct scores than in clinical groups. The profound access limitations and lack of independent health care provision and monitoring make detailed analysis of potential contributing and cumulative risk factors impossible.

Australia’s current immigration policies violate detainees’ human rights in multiple ways, including their right to health, by causing severe psychiatric distress and disorder in adults and children. Untreated or inadequately treated mental illness has ongoing consequences and increases the risk of self-harm and suicide. This has implications for the immediate and longer-term care of asylum seekers and further highlights the harm caused. The acknowledged methodological limitations of the study are a consequence of the practical, political and ethical obstacles to undertaking research in conventional ways with this extremely vulnerable population. Australia’s harsh immigration and border protection regime is maintained and defended in callous disregard for the people who are harmed. Justification on the basis of deterrence represents a further breach of our humanitarian obligations, raising concern that these practices amount to torture of those detained indefinitely. The findings of this study have scientific, human rights, and undeniable political implications.


This work is possible because the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) collected the primary data, which was subsequently released under Freedom of Information legislation (FOI). Australian Government data about the mental health of detained asylum seekers was obtained under FOI by the Guardian newspaper. Any errors or omissions are the sole responsibility of the author.

Sarah Mares, BMBS FRANZCP, Cert Child Psychiatry, MMH is Conjoint Senior Lecturer, School of Psychiatry, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia and Honorary Fellow, Menzies School of Health Research, Darwin Australia.

Please address correspondence to Dr. Sarah Mares, PO Box 44, Annandale, NSW Australia 2038. Email:

Disclosure: The author received a fee for her role as Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) Consultant to the 2014 AHRC Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention (February-April 2014).

Copyright © 2016 Mares. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (, which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


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[2]. Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), G.A. Res. 44/25 (1989), Available at

[3]. Australian Government Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Asylum trends ­– Australia: 2013-14 annual publication (Canberra: DIBP, Commonwealth of Australia, 2014).

[4]. Amnesty International, Australia: Appalling abuse, neglect of refugees on Nauru (August 2016). Available at See also The Lancet, “Refugee and migrant crisis: The deficient global response,” The Lancet 388/10045 (2016) p.633.

[5]. Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, A last resort? National inquiry into children in immigration detention (Sydney: HREOC, 2004); Australian Human Rights Commission. The forgotten children: National inquiry into children in immigration detention 2014 (Sydney: AHRC, 2014). Available at; Amnesty International (see note 4).

[6]. P. Moss, Review into recent allegations relating to conditions and circumstances at the Regional Processing Centre in Nauru: Final Report, (2015). Available at; N. Proctor, S. Sundram, G. Singleton, et al.,  “Physical and mental health subcommittee of the joint advisory committee for Nauru regional processing arrangements: Nauru site visit report” (May 2014). Available at;

See also R Ewart, “UNHCR calls for immediate transfer of refugees out of Manus Island, Nauru to ‘humane conditions’,” ABC News: Pacific Beat (May 5, 2016). Available at; M. Mckenzie-Murray, “Leaked UNHCR report: Manus Island world’s worst,” The Saturday Paper (October 8, 2016). Available at

[7]. United Nations Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Addendum A/HRC/28/68 Add.1(6 March 2015) Paragraph 19, p. 8. UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). Available at:

[8]. HREOC (see note 5), p.13.

[9]. Ibid., p. 214.

[10]. Ibid., p.13.

[11]. S. Mares, “Fifteen years of detaining children who seek asylum in Australia – evidence and consequences,” Australasian Psychiatry 24/1 (2016), pp. 11–14; Senator Amanda Vanstone Minister For Immigration And Multicultural And Indigenous Affairs, Joint media release with the Attorney-General the Hon. Philip Ruddock MP. VPS 68/2004. Available at;query=Id%3A%22media%2Fpressrel%2F2TKC6%22

[12]. M. Grattan, “Brandis censured by Senate over Triggs attacks.” The Conversation March 2, 2015.

[13]. M. Dudley, “Helping professionals and Border Force secrecy: Effective asylum-seeker healthcare requires independence from callous policies,” Australasian Psychiatry 24/1 (2016), pp. 15–18.

[14]. Ibid. See also Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, Guidance for psychiatrists working in Australian immigration detention centres (professional practice guideline 12, February 2016) [PDF; 160 KB]. Available at; J.P. Sanggaran, G. Ferguson, and B. Haire, “Ethical challenges for doctors working in immigration detention,” Medical Journal of Australia 201/7 (2014), pp. 377–378; L. Newman, “Asylum seekers and refugees – how should psychiatry respond?” Australasian Psychiatry 24/1 (2016), pp. 5–6.

[15]. D. Isaacs, “Asylum: Are healthcare professionals working in Australia’s immigration detention centres condoning torture?” Journal of Medical Ethics 42/7 (2016), pp. 413–415; J.P. Sanggaran and D. Zion, “Is Australia engaged in torturing asylum seekers? A cautionary tale for Europe.” Journal of Medical Ethics 42/7 (2016), pp. 420–423.

[16]. P. Young and M. Gordon, “Mental health screening in immigration detention: A fresh look at Australian government data,” Australasian Psychiatry 24/1 (2016), pp. 19–22. See also FA 16/02/00222 Health Data Sets –onshore Detention and Regional Processing Centres- July-September and October to December 2015. Available at

[17]. E. Hepinstall, V. Sethna, and E. Taylor, “PTSD and depression in refugee children: Associations with pre-migration trauma and post-migration stress,” European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 13/6 (2004), pp. 373–380; M. Fazel and A. Stein, “Mental health of refugee children: A comparative study,” BMJ, 327/7407 (2003), p. 134. See also Z. Steel, D. Silove, R. Brooks, et al., “Impact of immigration detention and temporary protection on the mental health of refugees,” The British Journal of Psychiatry 188/1 (2006), pp. 58–64.

[18]. S. Mares, L. Newman, M. Dudley, and F. Gale, “Seeking refuge, losing hope: Parents and children in immigration detention,” Australasian Psychiatry 10/2 (2002), pp. 91–96.

[19]. S. Mares and J. Jureidini, “Psychiatric assessment of children and families in immigration detention: Clinical, administrative and ethical issues,” Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 28/6 (2004), pp. 520–526; Z. Steel, S. Momartin, C. Bateman, et al., “Psychiatric status of asylum seeker families held for a protracted period in a remote detention centre in Australia,” Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 28/6 (2004), pp. 527–536.

[20]. Z. Steel and D. Silove, “The mental health implications of detaining asylum seekers,” The Medical Journal of Australia 175/11-12 (2000), pp. 596–599.

[21]. A. Lorek, K. Ehntholt, A. Nesbitt, et al., “The mental and physical health difficulties of children held within a British immigration detention center: A pilot study,” Child Abuse & Neglect 33/9 (2009), pp. 573–585; S. Nielsen, M. Norredam, K. Christiansen, et al., “Mental health among children seeking asylum in Denmark – the effect of length of stay and number of relocations: a cross-sectional study,” BMC Public Health 8 (2008), pp. 293-301.

[22]. I. Bronstein and P. Montgomery, “Psychological distress in refugee children: a systematic review,” Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review 14/1 (2011), pp. 44–56; M. Fazel, R. Reed, C. Panter-Brick and A. Stein, “Mental health of displaced and refugee children resettled in high-income countries: risk and protective factors,” The Lancet 379/9812 (2012), pp. 266–282. See also M. Dudley, Z. Steel, S. Mares, and L. Newman, “Children and young people in immigration detention,” Current Opinion in Psychiatry 25/4 (2012), pp. 285–292; K. Robjant, R. Hassan, and C. Katona, “Mental health implications of detaining asylum seekers: Systematic review,” The British Journal of Psychiatry 194/4 (2009), pp. 306–312.

[23]. M. Hodes, D. Jagdev, N. Chandra, et al., “Risk and resilience for psychological distress amongst unaccompanied asylum seeking adolescents,” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 49/7 (2008), pp. 723–732.

[24]. B. Reynolds and J. White, “Seeking asylum and motherhood: Health and wellbeing needs,” Community Practitioner 83/3 (2010), pp. 20–23; C. Collins, C. Zimmerman, and L. Howard, “Refugee, asylum seeker, immigrant women and postnatal depression: Rates and risk factors,” Archives of Women’s Mental Health 14/1 (2011), pp. 3­–11.

[25]. Fazel (see note 23).

[26]. S. Mares and K. Zwi, “Sadness and fear: The experiences of children and families in remote Australian immigration detention,” Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health 51/7 (2015), pp. 663–669; K. Zwi and S. Mares, “Stories from unaccompanied children in immigration detention: A composite account,” Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health 51/7 (2015), pp. 658–662.

[27]. AHRC (see note 5) p. 77.

[28]. Z. Steel and D. Silove, “Science and the common good: Indefinite, non-reviewable mandatory detention of asylum seekers and the research imperative,” Monash Bioethics Review 23/4 (2004), pp. 93–103; L. Kirmayer, C. Rousseau, and F. Crepeau, “Research ethics and the plight of refugees in detention,” Monash Bioethics Review 23/4 (2004), pp. 85–92.

[29]. Dudley (see note 14).

[30]. C. Hakim, Secondary analysis
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[31]. A. Grinyer, “The ethics of the secondary analysis and further use of qualitative data,” Social Research Update 56/4 (2009), pp.1–4.

[32]. AHRC (see note 5), p. 51.

[33]. Australian Government Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Immigration detention and community statistics summary (February 28 2014). Available at

[34]. AHRC (see note 5), Chapter 3, pp. 41-49.

[35]. R. Brooks, J. Beard, and Z. Steel, “Factor structure and interpretation of the K10,” Psychological Assessment 18/1 (2006), pp. 62–70.

[36]. C. Sulaiman-Hill and S. Thompson, “Selecting instruments for assessing psychological wellbeing in Afghan and Kurdish refugee groups,” BMC Res Notes 3 (2010), pp. 237–45. See also T. Fassaert, M. De Wit, W. Tuinebreijer, et al., “Psychometric properties of an interviewer‐administered version of the Kessler Psychological Distress scale (K10) among Dutch, Moroccan and Turkish respondents,” International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research 18/3 (2009), pp. 159–168.

[37]. R. Goodman, “Psychometric properties of the strengths and difficulties questionnaire,” Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 40/11 (2001), pp. 1337–1345; A. Goodman, D. Lamping, and G. Ploubidis, “When to use broader internalising and externalising subscales instead of the hypothesised five subscales on the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ): data from British parents, teachers and children,” Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 38/8 (2010), pp. 1179–1191; P. Vostanis, “Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire: Research and clinical applications,” Current Opinion in Psychiatry 19/4 (2006), pp. 367–372.

[38]. T. Achenbach, A. Becker, M. Döpfner, et al., “Multicultural assessment of child and adolescent psychopathology with ASEBA and SDQ instruments: Research findings, applications, and future directions,” The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 49/3 (2008), pp. 251–275; G. Leavey, K. Hollins, M. King, et al., “Psychological disorder amongst refugee and migrant schoolchildren in London,” Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 39/3 (2004), pp. 191–195.

[39]. AHRC (see note 5), p. 51.

[40]. T. Furukawa, R. Kessler, T. Slade, et al., “The performance of the K6 and K10 screening scales for psychological distress in the Australian National Survey of Mental Health and Well-Being,” Psychological Medicine 33/2 (2003), pp. 357–362.

[41]. Vostanis (see note 38).

[42]. Furukawa et al. (see note 41).

[43]. Z. Steel, T. Chey, D. Silove, et al., “Association of torture and other potentially traumatic events with mental health outcomes among populations exposed to mass conflict and displacement: A systematic review and meta-analysis,” Journal of the American Medical Association 302/5 (2009) pp. 537–549.

[44]. Steel et al. (see note 20).

[45]. M. Sawyer, F. Arney, P. Baghurst, et al., “The mental health of young people in Australia: Key findings from the child and adolescent component of the national survey of mental health and well-being,” Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 35/6 (2001), pp. 806–814; D. Mellor, “Normative data for the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire in Australia,” Australian Psychologist 40/3 (2005), pp. 215–222; J. Mathai, P. Anderson, and A. Bourne, “The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) as a screening measure prior to admission to a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS),” Australian E-Journal for the Advancement of Mental Health 1/3 (2002), pp. 235-246.

[46]. Mathai et al. (see note 46).

[47]. Ibid.

[48]. Nielsen et al., (see note 22) p. 293.

[49]. P. Wiegersma, A. Stellinga-Boelen, and S. Reijneveld, “Psychosocial problems in asylum seekers’ children: The parent, child, and teacher perspective using the strengths and difficulties questionnaire,” The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 199/2 (2011), pp. 85–90.

[50]. Fazel and Stein (see note 18), p.134.

[51]. M. Ní Raghallaigh and R. Gilligan, “Active survival in the lives of unaccompanied minors: Coping strategies, resilience, and the relevance of religion,” Child & Family Social Work 15/2 (2010), pp. 226–237; M. Tempany, “What research tells us about the mental health and psychosocial wellbeing of Sudanese refugees: A literature review,” Transcultural Psychiatry 46/2 (2009), pp. 300–315.

[52]. International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), G.A. Res. 2200A (XXI), (1966). Available at See also United Nations Human Rights Council A/HRC/32/L26 Human Rights Council Agenda item 3, June 29, 2016.

[53]. S. Pickering and L. Weber, “New deterrence scripts in Australia’s rejuvenated offshore detention regime for asylum seekers,” Law & Social Inquiry 39/4 (2014), pp. 1006–1026; S. Mares and J. Jureidini, “Child and adolescent refugees and asylum seekers in Australia: The ethics of exposing children to suffering to achieve social outcomes,” in M. Dudley, D. Silove, and F. Gale (eds) Mental health and human rights: Vision, praxis and courage. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. 403­­–414.