Mental health and the asylum process

Authors : Niall CRUMLISH, Pat BRACKEN


A refugee, according to the United Nations and Irish law, is:“a person who owing to a well-founded fear of being perse- cuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country”.

An asylum-seeker is a person who has left his or her country of origin, has applied for refugee status in another jurisdiction and is awaiting a decision on that application. The majority of asylum-seekers are from countries that are in con ict. Because asylum-seekers lack refugee status under the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, they do not have the rights to which a refugee is entitled under international law.

The prevalence of mental disorder among all forcibly displaced people is high, because of pre-migration traumas, dif culties encountered during migration, and post-migration stressors. From a mental health perspective, the situation that asylum-seekers nd themselves in after arriving in their destination country differs in key respects to the situation of a refugee.

Asylum-seekers experience post-migration stressors that refugees do not. They have insecure residency status and live in constant fear of repatriation. Asylum applications may take years to process and during this time people seeking asylum in Ireland do not have the right to work or to private accommodation. The asylum process is adversarial, with the burden of proof placed on the asylum-seeker. Detention, a stressor that refugees do not endure once they achieve refu- gee status, has repeatedly been shown adversely to affect mental health.

Key words : asylum seekers, mental health, detention


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