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The impact of detention on the health of asylum seekers

Additional Info

  • Authors: Trine Filges, Edith Montgomery, Marianne Kastrup, Anne-Marie Klint Jørgensen
  • Published date: 2015-09-01
  • Coordinating group(s): Social Welfare
  • Type of document: Review, Plain language summary
  • Title: The impact of detention on the health of asylum seekers
  • Library Image: Library Image
  • See the full review: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.4073/csr.2015.13
  • Records available in: English, Norwegian, Spanish
  • English:

    PLAIN LANGUAGE SUMMARY

    Detention of asylum seekers has adverse effects on mental health

    Confining asylum seekers in detention centres negatively affects their mental health both during their detention and after their release.

    What did the review study?

    The number of people fleeing conflicts and persecution is increasing. However, many countries use harsh measures to discourage people who wish to apply for asylum. One of the most controversial is confining asylum seekers in detention centres. The number of such centres is rising.

    Understanding the health impact of detaining asylum seekers is important. Asylum seekers have high rates of pre-migration trauma from exposure to war, genocide or imprisonment. These experiences make them vulnerable to health problems. Confining them may worsen the effects of the trauma they have experienced already.

    This Campbell systematic review assessed whether detaining asylum seekers has an impact on their mental health. The review also assessed whether detaining asylum seekers has a negative impact on their physical health and social functioning.

    About this review

    This Campbell systematic review examines the impacts of on health, including mental health (PTSD, anxiety and depression), physical health and social functioning, of confining asylum seekers in detention centres. The review includes nine studies from the UK, Japan, Canada, and Australia.

    What studies were included?

    Included studies compared asylum seekers who were detained with those who were not detained. A total of nine studies met the requirements for inclusion, which analysed 8 different asylum populations. The studies were conducted in four countries: the UK, Japan, Canada, and Australia. All the studies used non-randomised designs.

    Six of the studies were excluded from the analysis because there were important differences between the groups which were compared, or because the studies were judged to have methodological limitations. All of the excluded studies were conducted in Australia, which has a policy of mandatory detention.

    How does detention affect mental health?

    Detention has a negative impact on the mental health of asylum seekers. Levels of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety both before and after release were found to be higher among asylum seekers who were detained compared to those who were not detained. The size of the effects were clinically important.

    All the studies assessed the mental health of the participants but none reported outcomes related to physical or social functioning.

    What are the research and policy implications of this review?

    Implications for policy- and decision-makers

    Policymakers should consider less harmful policy options than detention. These options may include reporting requirements, sureties or bail, or community supervision. Options that restrict people’s freedom of movement should also be closely monitored to ensure that these do not also have negative mental health effects.

    Research implications

    The research summarized in the review is of moderate quality. Further research is needed to assess the impacts of keeping asylum seekers in detention centres on their physical health and social functioning. A deeper, comparative understanding of the impacts of different detention conditions on asylum seekers is also needed.

    How up-to-date is this review?

    The review authors searched for studies between November 2013 and January 2014.

  • Norwegian:

    Click on 'Download PDF' on the right to view the plain language summary in Norwegian.

  • Spanish:

    Click on 'Download PDF' on the right to view the plain language summary in Spanish.

Select language:

PLAIN LANGUAGE SUMMARY

Detention of asylum seekers has adverse effects on mental health

Confining asylum seekers in detention centres negatively affects their mental health both during their detention and after their release.

What did the review study?

The number of people fleeing conflicts and persecution is increasing. However, many countries use harsh measures to discourage people who wish to apply for asylum. One of the most controversial is confining asylum seekers in detention centres. The number of such centres is rising.

Understanding the health impact of detaining asylum seekers is important. Asylum seekers have high rates of pre-migration trauma from exposure to war, genocide or imprisonment. These experiences make them vulnerable to health problems. Confining them may worsen the effects of the trauma they have experienced already.

This Campbell systematic review assessed whether detaining asylum seekers has an impact on their mental health. The review also assessed whether detaining asylum seekers has a negative impact on their physical health and social functioning.

About this review

This Campbell systematic review examines the impacts of on health, including mental health (PTSD, anxiety and depression), physical health and social functioning, of confining asylum seekers in detention centres. The review includes nine studies from the UK, Japan, Canada, and Australia.

What studies were included?

Included studies compared asylum seekers who were detained with those who were not detained. A total of nine studies met the requirements for inclusion, which analysed 8 different asylum populations. The studies were conducted in four countries: the UK, Japan, Canada, and Australia. All the studies used non-randomised designs.

Six of the studies were excluded from the analysis because there were important differences between the groups which were compared, or because the studies were judged to have methodological limitations. All of the excluded studies were conducted in Australia, which has a policy of mandatory detention.

How does detention affect mental health?

Detention has a negative impact on the mental health of asylum seekers. Levels of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety both before and after release were found to be higher among asylum seekers who were detained compared to those who were not detained. The size of the effects were clinically important.

All the studies assessed the mental health of the participants but none reported outcomes related to physical or social functioning.

What are the research and policy implications of this review?

Implications for policy- and decision-makers

Policymakers should consider less harmful policy options than detention. These options may include reporting requirements, sureties or bail, or community supervision. Options that restrict people’s freedom of movement should also be closely monitored to ensure that these do not also have negative mental health effects.

Research implications

The research summarized in the review is of moderate quality. Further research is needed to assess the impacts of keeping asylum seekers in detention centres on their physical health and social functioning. A deeper, comparative understanding of the impacts of different detention conditions on asylum seekers is also needed.

How up-to-date is this review?

The review authors searched for studies between November 2013 and January 2014.

Library Image

See the full review

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