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Aust N Z J Public Health. 2009 Feb;33(1):40-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-6405.2009.00336.x.

Australian asylum policies: have they violated the right to health of asylum seekers?

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Menzies School of Health Research, Charles Darwin University, Northern Territory.



Notwithstanding recent migration policy amendments, there is concern that Australian asylum policies have disproportionately burdened the health and wellbeing of onshore asylum seekers. There may be a case to be made that Australian governments have been in violation of the right to health of this population. The objective of this paper is to critically examine these issues and assess the implications for public health practice.


The author undertook a review of the recent empirical literature on the health effects of post-migration stressors arising from Australian policies of immigration detention, temporary protection and the restriction of Medicare to some asylum seekers. This evidence was examined within the context of Australia's international law obligations.


Findings reveal that Australian asylum policies of detention, temporary protection and the exclusion of some asylum seekers from Medicare rights have been associated with adverse mental health outcomes for this population. This is attributable to the impact of these policies on accessing health care and the underlying determinants of health for asylum seekers.


It is arguable that Australian Governments have been discriminating against asylum seekers by withholding access on the grounds of their migration status, to health care and to the core determinants of health in this context. In so doing, Australia may have been in violation of its obligation to respect the right to health of this population.


While the 'right to health' framework has much to offer public health, it is an undervalued and poorly understood discipline. The author argues for more education, research and advocacy around the intersection between heath and human rights.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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