Survivors of Torture & Trauma Assistance and Rehabilitation Service (STTARS), Adelaide, Australia
There is ample evidence that ongoing temporary protection visa status has a detrimental impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing. It has been associated with increased anxiety, depression, ongoing PTSD, and mental health-related disability. Compared with permanent visa holders, the intense fear of being forcibly returned to the country where they have been tortured or persecuted, being denied the right to reunite with their families, together with limited access to accommodation, language training, education, healthcare and other essential services, have untold impact on the mental health of temporary visa holders.
After mandatory offshore resettlement was reintroduced in 2013, there were more than 30,000 people seeking protection in Australia.
They have languished in uncertainty and fear of deportation for 4-5 years. Eventually, a fraction received temporary protection in Australia—for 3 or 5 years—affording momentary relief to some, while others have reported a ‘numbing’ sensation or an inability to feel ‘any happiness’, because they have waited too long.
This presentation describes the challenges and the opportunities of working with temporary visa holders as they embark on their uncertain journey of life in Australia, navigating the confused maze of bureaucracy, with little or no English language skills and limited settlement assistance, education, and employment opportunities. It emphasizes the vital support given by counsellor-advocates, caseworkers, and volunteers walking alongside them, advocating for their officially restricted entitlements while intervening to minimize the unfair and unjust demands made on them. The presentation also describes the importance of continuing to address the impact of past trauma. It highlights how therapists utilized storytelling and the respectful, non-judgmental approaches of narrative therapy (externalizing, re-authoring, re-membering, and outsider-witnessing) to discover clients’ unique skills, knowledge, abilities and competencies, promote resilience through alternative stories, and maintain a modicum of hope in the lives of this highly
vulnerable group of people.