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No day pass for detained doctor

By CNN's Grant Holloway

SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- An Iraqi doctor being held indefinitely in an Australian detention camp has won a human rights award, but has not been allowed to collect the honor in person.

Dr Aamer Sultan was highly commended by Australia's Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission on Sunday for his work with other detainees in Sydney's Villawood Detention Center.

Sultan had asked Australian authorities if he could attend the awards ceremony, accompanied by guards, but was denied permission by the Department of Immigration.

Sultan has been in Villawood for the past 30 months after having his application for refugee status denied.

Because Australia does not have diplomatic ties with Iraq, he cannot be returned to that country and is being held in detention indefinitely.

The result of Sultan's work with other detainees is published today in the Medical Journal of Australia.

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The work, co-authored by clinical psychologist Kevin O'Sullivan, examines the psychological impact of long-term detention on asylum seekers.

The study finds detainees whose asylum claims are unsuccessful undergo stages of increasing depression and overwhelming feelings of injustice, punctuated by periods of protest.

These reactions have a marked secondary impact on children being held in detention, the study finds.

Medical Journal of Australia reports on asylum seekers 

"The physical environment at Villawood is intimidating in a number of respects," the report says.

"At times, we have observed harsh and uncompassionate handling of asylum seekers by staff.

"Detainees are routinely handcuffed during transportation to and from the facility for medical or legal appointments," they said.

The study, carried out over nine months, concludes the Australian government's mandatory detention policy inflicts grave psychological injury on many inmates.

In response, Australia's Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock, has written to the editor of the journal complaining about what he says are a number of factual errors in the article.

Acting minister Chris Ellison said Monday many people who applied for asylum in Australia were already suffering some kind of psychological distress.

Conditions in Australia's detention centers have attracted considerable criticism of late, both from within Australia and globally from groups such as Amnesty International.

The camps have been the scene of many riots, hunger strikes, escapes, vandalism and occasionally suicide, as well as inmates inflicting self-harm.

There are currently about 3,300 asylum seekers kept in six detention centers within Australia and around 1,000 others in Australian-built and run camps in the Pacific nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea.


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