A girl suffering “resignation syndrome” and who is refusing all food and water has been ordered off Nauru by an Australian court, as a succession of critically ill children are being flown off the island.
At least three children since Thursday last week have left the island, and reports from island sources said that at least three more children, as young as 12, are “on FFR” — food and fluid refusal.
The crisis on the island is overwhelming medical staff, who are referring dozens of children for transfer off the island, only to have their decisions rebuffed by Australian Border Force officials on the island or Australian Department of Home Affairs bureaucrats in Canberra.
Two children were on Thursday last week moved off the island with their families.
A 14-year-old refugee boy suffering from major depressive disorder and severe muscle wastage, after not getting out of bed for four months, was early on Friday morning flown directly from Nauru to Brisbane with his family.
There were concerns that he might never be able to walk normally again, doctors said.
In the Australian Federal Court later on Friday, Justice Tom Thawley ordered another girl — given the designation EIV18 by the court — to be moved to Australia for urgent medical treatment.
Court orders prevent publication of the girl’s age — other than that she is a child — her name or country of origin.
Guardian Australia reported on the girl’s case on Wednesday. Three separate doctors had independently assessed her and all had recommended that she be moved urgently from the island, but this was resisted by the Australian government.
The girl has been inside the supported accommodation area of the regional processing center for three weeks, and has been refusing food and water for much of that time.
Before she fell into acute depression and refused to eat or drink anything, she had been one of the brightest and most articulate of the refugee children on Nauru.
“Before she got sick, she was the best-performing student,” a source familiar with the girl and her condition told the Guardian. “She had a dream to be a doctor in Australia and to help others. Now, she is on food and fluid refusal and begging to die, as death is better than Nauru.”
“I can’t live on this island anymore,” the girl told her Australian advocate. “I hate everything and everyone around me. I hate to go outside.”
“We left our country to have a good and better life, but we faced the worst life ever, the life which forced us to end it,” she said.
The court ordered the girl be moved “on an urgent basis” from Nauru.
The next commercial flight was not until today, but doctors said the girl was too unwell to take a commercial flight.
A Department of Home Affairs source in Canberra confirmed that an air ambulance flight was approved for the girl, but that the government was waiting on arrangements to be made for her family.
Sources on Nauru said that up to three more refugee and asylum-seeker children on the island were refusing food and fluids, including two brothers aged 14 and 15.
“Only the most critically ill cases are being addressed,” the Nauru sources said, adding that “the situation is dangerously chaotic.”
A 12-year-old girl who attempted to self-immolate this week has not been moved, they added.
Island sources said there is an uncontrollable “contagion” of children committing self-harm, attempting suicide or refusing all food and fluids.
Several children have been diagnosed with the rare but serious child psychiatric disorder “pervasive refusal syndrome,” also known as resignation syndrome, which has been documented at high rates among asylum-seeker children, especially in Sweden.
Children suffering from resignation syndrome effectively withdraw from life — refusing to eat, drink, go to the toilet, leave their beds, speak or even open their eyes. They are sometimes completely unresponsive to stimuli.
The National Justice Project, which has succeeded in having more than a dozen children transferred off Nauru through court applications — either conceded by the government or ordered by judges — said that there is a child health crisis on Nauru.
“What kind of a world do we live in where life-or-death medical decisions need to be decided by a judge? I’m very concerned about the difference between the medical reports we are seeing and the information the government is using to base its decisions,” project principal solicitor George Newhouse told reporters.
The Australian government has consistently declined to comment on individual cases, but the Nauru government has defended the safety of children on the island.
“Media reports about children of refugee and asylum-seeker families in Nauru are false. None are in detention. They live with their families in our community alongside Nauruan children,” a Nauru government statement said.
“To suggest any child is in danger just because they live in our country is offensive,” they added.
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