Indefinite immigration detention causes well-documented harms to mental health, and international condemnation and resistance leave it undisrupted. Health care is non-independent from immigration control, compromising clinical ethics. Attempts to establish protected, independent clinical review and subvert the system via advocacy and political engagement have had limited success.
The purpose of this study is to examine the following: how indefinite detention for deterrence (exemplified by Australia) injures asylum-seekers; how international legal authorities confirm Australia’s cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; how detention compromises health-care ethics and hurts health professionals; to weigh arguments for and against boycotting immigration detention; and to discover how health professionals might address these harms, achieving significant change.
Australian Governments fully understand and accept policy-based injuries. They purposefully dispense cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and intend suffering that causes measurable harms for arriving asylum-seekers exercising their right under Australian law. Health professionals are ethically conflicted, not wanting to abandon patients yet constrained. Indefinite detention prevents them from alleviating sufferings and invites collusion, potentially strengthening harms; thwarts scientific inquiry and evidence-based interventions; and endangers their health whether they resist, leave or remain. Governments have primary responsibility for detained asylum-seekers’ health care. Health professional organisations should negotiate the minimum requirements for their members’ participation to ensure independence, and prevent conflicts of interest and inadvertent collaboration with and enabling systemic harms.