International medical charity Doctors without Borders has described as “absolutely devastating” the mental health conditions of the refugees detained indefinitely by the Australian government on the tiny Pacific island of Nauru.
“The mental health conditions of asylum seekers and refugees trapped on Nauru is absolutely devastating. Five years of indefinite limbo has led to a radical deterioration of their mental health and wellbeing,” the group’s Australia Executive Director Paul McPhun said at a news conference in Sydney on Thursday.
Nauru is one of two Pacific nations where Australia detains hundreds of asylum seekers intercepted while trying to reach the country by boat.
“Over the past 11 months, MSF teams have treated dozens of men, women, and children trapped in the vicious downward spiral of despair,” McPhun said, using a French acronym for Doctors without Borders. “Shockingly, of the refugee patients we treated, at least 78 had attempted suicide, had suicidal thoughts, and inflicted self-harm, and they are conservative numbers.”
McPhun stressed that the Australian government’s policy of indefinite detention of refugees offshore had “destroyed their resilience, shattered all hope, and ultimately impacted their mental health.”
He also said “depression, anxiety and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” were the conditions most seen among the refugees, adding that many children existed in a “semi-comatose state that makes them unable to eat, drink and talk.”
McPhun said during the news conference that the only solution to the unfolding mental health crisis was the “immediate evacuation” of the refugees.
“Separating families, holding men, women and children on a remote island indefinitely with no hope of protection except in the case of a medical emergency, is cruel and inhumane,” he concluded.
Last week, government officials at Nauru forced MSF to leave the island, where it had been working since November 2017 by providing psychological and psychiatric services to refugees, asylum seekers, and local Nauruans.
Australia has been widely criticized by the international community and human rights advocates for sending those asylum seekers who try to reach its shores by boat to Canberra-funded detention camps on Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
The United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee has on several occasions expressed concern about the refugees’ physical and mental well-being on Nauru, citing instances of assault, sexual abuse, self-harm, and suspicious deaths.