A REFUGEE activist is "not surprised" that detainees in a Broadmeadows detention centre could be experiencing a form of mental illness newly diagnosed as 'protracted asylum seeker syndrome'.
Australian researchers have identified the syndrome, which they say is unique to asylum seekers living in the community.
Its symptoms include poor concentration, impaired memory, flat, depressed mood, psychotic episodes, anger and rage, obsession with their protection claim, intermittent suicidal thoughts and possibly ongoing physiological symptoms such as sore eyes.
Refugee activist Daniella Olea, who regularly visits the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA) in Broadmeadows, said it wasn't a shock that the syndrome had been discovered.
At present there are 62 male detainees at MITA.
Ms Olea said the mental health of the detainees had deteriorated severely over the past few months, with three attempted suicides last month.
"It's not a surprise that they've discovered this new syndrome," she said.
"I've been visiting for a while now. I've seen deterioration in these people and every time I go it's getting worse and worse. The last time I went one man just cried for half an hour."
Ms Olea said morale at the centre was low because many of the male detainees were still waiting for a security clearance so they could be released, while eight men had been declared a security threat by ASIO.
"You can't check what ASIO has found about the men," Ms Olea said. "The men say none of their family back home has been contacted so we don't know where ASIO is getting its information from.
"They [detainees] don't know what to do. They can't appeal, they don't have lawyers. You can't take ASIO to court."
Ms Olea labelled the situation "ludicrous" and claimed the men posed no threat, stating she would invite them into her home if she could.
"I've met them, spoken to them. We've talked about our families, they've showed me pictures of their kids," she said.
"I would say with 100 per cent certainty that I would have these people in my own home. I would be friends with them after they get out."
Ms Olea estimated 99 per cent of the men were on some form of sleeping pills and antidepressants.
"I would not be surprised if it escalates to someone committing suicide," she said.
"And this is one of the better detention centres. It's more relaxed, a more humane detention centre; it shows how much is happening."
A spokesman for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship said it had no comment about protracted asylum seeker syndrome.