Increasing Mental Health Awareness in Refugee Status Determination

Nour, a single mother of two, fled from Syria in 2012 along with her parents and young children. She tells Emily, a Protection Officer with UNHCR in Lebanon, how the war had made her feel so helpless.  © UNHCR / Sarah Hoibak

In consultation with mental health experts, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has published recommendations for refugee status determination in Australia. It provides practical guidance for legal representatives and decision makers involved in interviewing and assessing psychologically vulnerable asylum-seekers.

Asylum-seekers often live through stressful and traumatic experiences in their country of origin, on their journey and in their country of asylum. These experiences can be detrimental to their mental health and can affect their ability to engage in the refugee status determination process.

The group of people seeking asylum, referred to as the so-called ‘legacy caseload’, have encountered numerous additional obstacles since arriving in Australia seeking protection. They are now being assessed under the ‘fast-track’ process, after several years of living in Australia with no opportunity to have their protection claims considered. The psychological strain caused by this prolonged period of uncertainty, combined with the prospect of only receiving a temporary protection outcome, which also prevents family reunification, is contributing to a deterioration in mental health.

If an asylum-seeker’s psychological ability is reduced, the fairness and accuracy of the protection assessment can be compromised. It is critical that psychological vulnerability is identified as early as possible and processes are put in place to help asylum-seekers discuss the difficult experiences that forced them to flee.

This guidance paper was the result of multi-stakeholder expert roundtables held in October 2016 and June 2017 on the mental health and well-being of the so-called ‘legacy caseload’. 

Read the Guidance Note on the Psychologically Vulnerable Applicant in the Protection Visa Assessment Process.