Under Australian law, all non-citizens who do not hold a valid visa must be detained. Immigration detainees are held in detention centres for 450 days on average, while their visa applications are processed and health and security checks are undertaken. A quarter of detainees are held for over two years.
By contrast, the average length of immigration detention in the United States is 32 days and in Canada is 25 days.
Prolonged, indefinite immigration detention is known to cause or exacerbates serious mental illness. Data from the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s review of asylum seekers in long term detention highlighted the impact of prolonged detention on mental health. The Ombudsman reviewed 754 asylum seekers who had been detained for over two years. Of those reviewed, 74% suffered from a mental health issue and almost 70% were found to have had their mental health issues either induced or exacerbated by immigration detention.
Asylum seekers in long-term detention reported mental health issues nearly four times the rate of the general population and 1.5 times the rate of the prison population.