Every year the St Vincent de Paul Society assists migrants and refugees, many of whom have come from strife-torn homelands. The level of mental illness suffered by these new members of the community is substantial and the trauma they experienced is, at times, hard to comprehend.
JOHN CAMPBELL (President, State Council St Vincent de Paul Society Queensland): Another issue we have, particularly in South East Queensland, is that a large amount of migrants and refugees have been arriving here since the year 2000. During that year, the year 2000, we got a lot of boat people that came from, in particular from Afghanistan, where they were escaping from the Taliban. They’ve all come by boat. As soon as they arrived in Australia they got put in refugee camps, which were virtually prison-like and then they were shipped to the various cities. We got a lot of them in Brisbane. All of those people were suffering from major trauma.
Dr SABA ABDULRAZAJK (Iraqui refugee): I was in close contact with some refugees and some families here, and they told me their stories and it was disaster for them especially those people who came in boats or illegally to Australian. They suffered a lot and they end up with mental illnesses. I knew a family and their father had schizophrenia after what had happened to them.
JOHN CAMPBELL: They are suffering first of all from social isolation. They’ve lost all their families. There’s usually only one or two of them at a time a husband and wife and a couple of little kids. They’ve had the terror of you know, seeing a lot of their families killed back in their home country. Then they’ve had the terror of coming across the sea in a boat, which they’ve never seen the sea in their life. And they’re on this little boat, a 20-meter boat for 10 days. Then they’re arrested by our people and stuck in a detention centre for anything up to 18 months and then their let loose on society in Australia. This is where the society, our Society, the St Vincent de Paul Society really became heavily involved in these people. But all of them, 100 per cent of them were suffering from, in particular torture and trauma, mental illness and some of them are still carrying that.
Dr ABDULRAZAK: Also to be a refugee I think it, decreases your self-esteem because you’re converted from a productive member to a dependent member. You are waiting for a charity and help because you are not allowed to work and you have no opportunity to get your own money. So you have no way, just to wait for charity, which also affects your self-esteem and respect for yourself.
JOHN CAMPBELL: And we’re also now getting a lot of people from Africa. Some of these people have been in refugee camps for anything up to 16 years. We’ve got kids here who were born in the refugee camps. So all of these people have some form of mental trouble, not necessarily major but it’s there.
Dr ABDULRAZAK: Many depression, depression and schizophrenia. I mean a case of schizophrenia. And violence, both the parents mainly, mainly parents. And the father will be very aggressive with the mother and the children. And the mother will be very aggressive with her children some of the time. And they are suspicious and sometimes they prefer to be alone because they can’t trust the people from this community and they are not able to communicate with other communities because of the language barrier or they feel low self-esteem.
JOHN CAMPBELL: As far as helping these people is concerned our particularly Conference in Brisbane have been helping the first of all the Temporary Protection Visa’s (TPV’s) and the people who came in boats. We’ve been helped them with money, with furniture and with food and in fact we’re still looking after some of them. In the main none of them spoke English so they had to learn English. They’ve gone to the TAFE colleges for that. But now we’ve got a large percentage of them that are starting to fit into society very well but we still have some of those people with those underlying torture and trauma problems that will perhaps never go away. So we’ll just continue to help them as long as they need it.
Dr ABDULRAZAK: They need the support. They need to be visited, to be encouraged. To be involved in the community, to be accepted- that’s the main issue.