Fri, Oct 12, 2018 - Page 5 News List

Refugee children kept on Nauru ‘semi-comatose’

DETERIORATING:MSF said that at least 78 refugees have attempted self-harm or had suicidal thoughts, and some children required intravenous fluid drips

Reuters, SYDNEY

The mental health of refugees detained by Australia on Nauru has deteriorated so badly that some children are in a “semi-comatose state,” unable to eat, drink or talk, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said yesterday.

Nauru is one of two Pacific nations where Australia detains hundreds of asylum seekers intercepted while trying to reach the country by boat, a policy widely criticized by the UN and rights groups.

MSF, one of the few groups to independently assess refugees at the restricted facilities, provided mental health care to asylum seekers and Nauru residents until the Pacific nation canceled its contract on Friday last week.

“During our time on the island, we witnessed a significant deterioration of mental health among our asylum-seeker and refugee patients,” MSF Australia executive director Paul McPhun told reporters in Sydney.

Children are among those affected by mental heath issues, he said, although he did not give a specific number.

“Many children exist in a semi-comatose state, unable to eat, drink and talk,” McPhun said, adding that some children required intravenous fluid drips.

Representatives for the government of Nauru and Australian Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton, who oversees the policy, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Dutton on Wednesday told reporters he would like to resettle the Nauru refugees in Australia, but that would encourage other asylum seekers to attempt the dangerous journey by boat.

Conditions in the Nauru camp, and another facility on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, have been criticized by the UN and human rights groups.

McPhun said the decline in mental health among refugees on Nauru was “clearly attributable” to their indefinite detention.

“Shockingly, of the refugees we have treated, at least 78 have attempted suicide, had suicidal thoughts and attempted self-harm,” he said.

Australia’s government, which faces an election next year, has largely won favor with voters for a policy it says prevents drownings at sea and maintains the integrity of the nation’s borders. Critics are trying to sway public opinion.

A social media campaign started this week by Simon Holmes a Court aimed to raise A$50,000 (US$35,437) to project faces of refugee children onto the Sydney Opera House.

The campaign raised nearly the entire amount in less than a day, organizers said.

Australia has stopped publishing data on the number of refugees held in both centers. Refugee advocates estimate that 600 people are detained on Manus Island and 500 on Nauru.

MSF said it expected the humanitarian crisis to get worse as a refugee swap deal with the US drags on.

The US government in 2016 said it would accept up to 1,250 refugees, but fewer than 500 have been resettled.

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