"They kill with cotton."
Days before a young Afghan man took his life he spoke these words to his solicitor. It is a Hazara phrase that means to ‘kill someone slowly.’ The message he left behind highlights the excruciating pain and despair that comes from uncertainty after people flee their homelands and seek asylum.
Imagine fleeing your home-country due to the fear of facing persecution such as torture, imprisonment or death, and your own government is either unable or unwilling to protect you. You must leave members of your family, your friends and your neighbours behind, not knowing if you will ever see them again or if they will survive. Oftentimes there is no opportunity to say goodbye to the people you care most about.
Imagine arriving in a new country, where the customs, rituals and language are completely foreign. You must negotiate a new legal system, having uncertainty about what the future will be, if you will be able to stay or ever see your family again.
“Many of those living on temporary protection have lived through unimaginable trauma. They are under significant physiological strain waiting for years to have their claims for refugee protection assessed,” says Professor Nicholas Procter.
“On top of fearing for their loved ones left behind, many continue to face isolating challenges such as prolonged and indefinite uncertainty, feelings of not belonging, language and cultural challenges.
“Sadly, many asylum seekers believe they are a burden to themselves and to others.”
Few people are aware that the suicide rates of people on temporary visas seeking refugee status in Australia is rapidly rising. In fact suicide is now the leading cause of premature death in this vulnerable group.
Currently, there is no local or national suicide prevention intervention strategy specifically addressing the needs of asylum seekers or the people supporting them in the Australian community.
At the University of South Australia, Professor Nicholas Procter and his team and are doing all that they can to use research and education to help change this reality.
“Sadly, members of my research team have known asylum seekers who have died by suicide,” says Prof Procter.
“We are trying to raise much needed donations to help NGO caseworkers and community leaders save the lives of vulnerable asylum seekers by creating a suicide prevention education program.”
“We will design, implement and evaluate an evidence based suicide prevention educational program to improve the knowledge, confidence and competence of NGO Caseworkers and community leaders when responding to suicidal asylum seekers.”
The funds will assist Prof Procter’s team teach the program across the country. It will assist NGO caseworkers to identify crucial suicide warning signs and enable them to assist the asylum seeker with seeking help.
“The loss or fear of losing a client to suicide is one of the most stressful events a health or human service worker will experience. It can also lead to a reluctance or unwillingness to work with suicidal individuals.”
After launching the crowdfunding initiative, Prof Procter received a text message from an asylum seeker stating (in-part), “It’s a great initiative. Let’s hope we can meet the target. This work will literally help to save many lives.”
Another individual who is all too aware of this alarming rise in asylum seeker suicide, and who is fighting to support asylum seekers in Australia, is Sister Pat Sealey. She is doing all that she can to help as many people as possible seeking refuge.
At first glance, Sr Pat is tiny and unassuming. However, she is also one of the most fearless, passionate and dedicated human service workers that you are likely to meet.
After spending time at the Baxter Detention Centre with asylum seekers desperate for a safe haven, she was inspired to return to study at the age of 75 to become a registered migration agent.
Now 84, Sr Pat shows no sign of slowing down. Volunteering her services seven days a week, Sr Pat meets with up to eight clients every day and is currently helping over 200 asylum seekers and refugees navigate the complex immigration system. She also helps with the long process of migrating their families, which she sees as crucial for the wellbeing of her clients.
Many of her clients share similar stories. Even if refugee status is awarded the compounded stress of fleeing their homelands and waiting years to reunite with family that were not lost takes its toll.
When asked about how these clients are coping she says “Of course their mental health is deteriorating. They’re listening to their wives (and families) cry on the phone every day and they don’t know what will happen.”
Sr Pat finds the legacy caseload of around 30,000 unprocessed asylum seekers who arrived before 2013 particularly concerning due to the ongoing uncertainty they experience. On top of this, in the past 10 years Sr Pat has been alarmed by the growing number of clients that she needs to refer to her friend and colleague Damien McInerney, a clinical psychologist who works with asylum seekers and refugees.
“This (suicide prevention) program is very necessary. Especially for the legacy group and those on restrictive visas,” says Sr Pat.
“We are lucky to have so many of these people in our country, they offer so much,” she simply says.
To learn more about the crowdfunding campaign and how you can help prevent the loss of life please visit:
The University of South Australia and the Red Cross have each committed an additional 20% of funds if the project target is reached. Please consider making a donation to help stop the unnecessary loss of life.
If you or anyone you know needs help please contact
Few people realise that suicide has become the leading cause of asylum seeker premature death in Australia. Professor Nicholas Procter is leading a crowdfunding campaign at UniSA to facilitate a suicide prevention program for these vulnerable individuals.
Big things can happen when we all work together. Crowdfunding@UniSA gives you the opportunity to engage directly with innovative research projects and follow their progress as our researchers work to tackle important issues. The first three projects open for your support aim to improve our health, society and the environment. For the campaigns that reach their targets, the University of South Australia has committed to boosting all funds raised by an extra 20% - so your dollar will have even greater impact.