A study into refugee and asylum seeker suicide prevention funded by the federal government is “likely” to show that its own policies contribute to increased risk, the researcher says.
On Saturday, health minister Greg Hunt announced that Dr Miriam Posselt from the University of South Australia would receive up to $100,000 through the National Suicide Prevention Research Fund (NSPRF) for the project.
The funding will be used to address a dearth of knowledge about suicide risk and protective factors among refugees and asylum seekers in Australia, as well as identifying best response practices.
Posselt told BuzzFeed News that data from the Netherlands, the US and the UK suggests high numbers of suicides among refugees and asylum seekers.
But in Australia, where harsh refugee and asylum seeker policies are regularly criticised by domestic and international advocates and human rights organisations, little research has been done.
“There’s more information about incidents in detention and offshore detention, but less information about people with permanent visas who come from a refugee background,” Posselt said.
The funding announcement comes in the middle of a suicide crisis among refugees and asylum seekers sent to offshore detention on Manus Island by the Australian government.
Since the re-election of Scott Morrison’s government in May, suicide attempts have escalated among the men on Manus, where many have been detained for more than five years.
Posselt said some of Australia’s immigration policies could contribute to increased risk of suicide.
“Certainly we’re aware that temporary protection visas (TPVs) and bridging visas are associated with prolonged uncertainty and feelings of hopelessness,” she said. “It’s likely that those policies might contribute to increased risk.”
TPVs were reintroduced by the Coalition government in 2014, when Morrison was the immigration minister.
A person on a TPV can stay in Australia on a temporary basis, but has to reapply every three years and remains in legal limbo. They are also not permitted to apply to sponsor family members for visas.
Posselt said other risk factors include experiences of torture and trauma, as well as mental health problems associated with the challenges of resettlement and migration.
The research will not look at offshore detention centres, focusing instead on refugees and asylum seekers on mainland Australia.
When asked whether it was a contradiction for the government to fund research focused on Australia while maintaining its policy of offshore detention elsewhere, a spokesperson for Hunt told BuzzFeed News the findings would be used to “assist with the provision of services wherever they occur”, including in onshore and offshore detention.
Posselt said: “All refugees and asylum seekers wherever they are in the world are important and everyone should be concerned about any refugee or asylum seeker in suicidal distress, no matter where they are.”
If you or someone you know needs help, you can call Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue Australia on 1300 22 4636.