Médecins Sans Frontières has called for the immediate evacuation of all asylum seekers and refugees from Nauru and the end of Australia’s offshore detention policy for good. There was “nothing humanitarian about saving people from sea only to leave them in an open-air prison.”
“This policy should be stopped immediately and should not be replicated by any government,” said MSF Australia’s director, Paul McPhun.
McPhun and two members of the former Nauru team also described hostile treatment from the Nauruan government despite being invited to work there. MSF was forced by Nauru’s government to leave this island this week, after almost a year of providing psychological and psychiatric services to refugees, asylum seekers, and local Nauruans. Their visas were cancelled on the way out “to make it clear there was no intention of inviting us back,” said McPhun.
“While many asylum seekers and refugees on Nauru experienced trauma in their countries of origin or during their journey, it is the Australian government’s policy of indefinite offshore detention that has destroyed their resilience, shattered all hope, and ultimately impacted their mental health,” McPhun said. “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.”
The most common conditions treated among the refugees and asylum seekers were depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress disorder, with significant levels of self harm, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts, including children as young as nine.
“Many children exist in a semi-comatose state, unable to eat, drink and talk,” said McPhun, adding that some children required intravenous fluid drips.
“Our patients often describe their situation as far worse than prison because in prison you know when you can get out,” said an MSF psychiatrist, Dr Beth O’Connor.
“MSF is also deeply concerned about the mental health of the Nauruan population itself,” McPhun explained.
“The Nauru hospital has no psychologists or therapist on staff,” said Dr Christine Rufene. “There is one mental health nurse who supports Nauruan patients only and who will continue to do her best. The hospital employs one full time psychiatrist and that person does not even speak English. She has no translator to communicate with patients.”