Mandaean refugees experienced post-traumatic stress at rates far higher than the general community under the Howard government's mandatory detention policies, UNSW-led research has found.

The research supports the Rudd government's changes to mandatory detention laws which saw women and children released into the community.

A significant proportion of the world's Mandaean population lives in Australia. There are up to 70,000 Mandaeans worldwide and 5,000 of those live in Sydney. Mandaeans are a persecuted pre-Christian religious minority from Iraq and Iran, who follow the teachings and rituals practised by John the Baptist.

The research, which was undertaken in 2003, 2006 and 2007, found that mental health problems in the community included depression at seven times the rate found in the broader population. There were also fears about dangers facing family members, particularly those still in Iraq.

Dr Zachary Steel, one of the lead researchers from UNSW's School of Psychiatry, says those who were not detained or were detained only for short periods were much better able to build new lives in Australia and contribute to the community.

"It was very positive to see that rates of post-traumatic stress disorder decreased as participants' visa status changed from temporary to permanent, from 45 percent to 11 percent," he said.

The two reports, The Well-Being of Sydney Mandaeans: past, present and future and the Mandaean Community Consultation, show that Mandaeans are worried about changes to their ancient faith, family breakdown and not being able to find work in Australia.

Both reports can be found on the NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabiliation of Torture and Trauma Survivors website.

The group would like more programs to help them understand Australian laws and further English language instruction.

Media Contact: Susi Hamilton | 9385 1583 | 0422 934 024 |