“We need help” the banner held by protestors in Villawood leaves us wondering as to what is the actual truth? The recent incidence in June 2011 when buildings were set on fire by the detainees held in Sydney’s Villawood Detention Centre brings the plight of these centres into the public focus.

Around 400 asylums seekers and other detainees are held at Villawood, out of which 100 mustered up guts to cause turmoil by setting an oxygen cylinder alight late night. The chaotic protest took an ugly turn as nine buildings burnt down to the ground. Many other detention centres suffered the same fate this year as protests and chaos became the norm.

With such repulsive behaviour uprooting from the detainees of detention centres our thoughts are converged to a fundamental issue “What are the living conditions of these centres?” The answer to this query will unfold the psychological and physical effects of detention centres on its detainees.


Suicide cases have taken an alarming toll in Australia’s detention centres, with about 1100 registered cases of suicidal deaths in the premises of detention centre in 2010. In 2011 alone some 50 cases including suicide attempts, homicidal disorders and self harm, have been reported.

On Christmas Island cases of detainees sewing their lips up reflects the serious disorders the asylum-seekers are suffering from. Absence of protocols in detention centres seems to be the underlying cause of this alarming death rate. In fact, the existing policies for suicidal detainees further deteriorate their mental balance for being placed handicapped in an isolated cell for weeks and being restrained with 24-hours camera surveillance is anything but a humane treatment.

Unsatisfactory guard-to-detainee ratio further increases the chances of depressed detainees endangering their lives at the expense of suicidal tendencies. Also detainees fall prey to suicidal behaviour after disturbing sexual, verbal and physical abuses shatter their self-respect.


The congested living conditions of the detention centres push the detainees to stand up for their basic rights resulting in uprisings and protests. The overcrowded conditions can be signified with the 30 square metre room allocated for around 300 to 400 people.  The harsh living conditions are further aggregated by lack of ventilation facilities and filthy rooms.

The Australian government has realised the severity of this situation and has recently announced provision of 1,900 new beds for asylum seekers to ease their harsh living plights. The burden of lack of living necessities cannot be put on government’s shoulders alone. Around 4233 people are present in Australia’s immigration facilities and alternative places of detention and it is no walk-in-the-park to accommodate such statistics.

According to psychiatrists, absence of fundamental human necessities and the vicious environment of detention centres have triggered negative feelings of anxiety, frustration and alienation in detainees. It has been reported by refugee advocates that 6000 plus detainees are suffering from mental imbalance and need immediate professional help. The increasing cases of uprising in detention centres is disgracing the global image of Australia and this delicate matter needs to be tackled by our government effectively.

What are your thoughts about the psychological cost to detainees in Australian detention centres? Leave your comments below.

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