The aim of the present research was to examine the experience of extended periods of immigration detention from the perspective of previously detained asylum seekers and to identify the consequences of these experiences for life after release. The study sample comprised seventeen adult refugees (sixteen male and one female; average age 42 years), who had been held in immigration detention funded by the Australian government for on average three years and two months. They were interviewed on average three years and eight months following their release and had been granted permanent visa status or such status was imminent. The study employed a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods to explore detention and post-detention experiences, and mental health some years after release. The qualitative component consisted of semi-structured interviews exploring psychological well-being, daily life, significant events, relationships, and ways of coping throughout these periods. This was supplemented with standardised quantitative measures of current mental health and quality of life. All participants were struggling to rebuild their lives in the years following release from immigration detention, and for the majority the difficulties experienced were pervasive. Participants suffered an ongoing sense of insecurity and injustice, difficulties with relationships, profound changes to view of self and poor mental health. Depression and demoralisation, concentration and memory disturbances, and persistent anxiety were very commonly reported. Standardised measures found high rates of depression, anxiety, PTSD and low quality of life scores. The results strongly suggest that the psychological and interpersonal difficulties participants were suffering at the time of interview were the legacy of their adverse experiences while detained. The current study assists in identifying the characteristics of prolonged immigration detention producing long-term psychological harm.
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