Incidents of self-harm and threats of suicide by children illegally and indefinitely detained on a remote island are reportedly on the increase. Yet authorities have decided to bar the doctors who were trying to help them. A leading lawyers’ group is now calling for international intervention to end this tragedy.
WARNING: the following includes distressing content.
The children and their families are detained in an open-air prison in dreadful conditions on the tiny Pacific island state of Nauru. There are around 900 refugees or asylum seekers, including 115 children – detained on Nauru at the behest of the Australian government. Many have been imprisoned there for the last five years.
In recent months, self-harm incidents there have multiplied, with some children expressing no hope and suicide ideation (thinking of or planning suicide). In August 2018, a 12-year-old girl attempted to take her own life by immolation (setting herself on fire).
In addition, over 2,000 leaked files documented assaults, sexual abuse, self-harm attempts, child abuse, and poor living conditions on Nauru over a two-year period. Over 1,000 of those files concerned children.
For the past 11 months, Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)) provided psychological and psychiatric services to the refugees as well as to locals. But the response of the Nauruan government to the crisis has been to ban MSF from working further on the island.
MSF’s Dr Christine Rufener told the Guardian:
The word I heard most often in my therapy sessions with patients [on Nauru] was ‘destroyed’. Any hope they have of living a meaningful future has been irrevocably destroyed. I heard it in their words and I saw it in their eyes.
According to MSF, at least 78 patients on Nauru have considered or attempted suicide or self-harm. And a further 100 were listed to be examined for psychiatric or psychological problems. Children as young as nine told MSF they would rather die than live in a state of hopelessness.
children swallowing razor blades and stones and attempting to overdose
BBC Newsnight recently covered developments. But in its attempt to provide ‘balance’, its feature included an interview with former Australian foreign affairs minister Alexander Downer – who happens to be embroiled in the so-called ‘RussiaGate’ scandal.
Greg Barns, barrister and spokesperson for the Australian Lawyers Alliance, told The Canary:
Australia and Nauru have a full blown humanitarian crisis on their hands – one of their own making. There needs to be an international commitment to pressure Australia into removing every asylum seeker from what is clearly a serious daily breach of international human rights conventions.
As a matter of international law there is an obligation on sovereign states to ensure basic humanity in the treatment of those within its jurisdiction. This is clearly not the case with Nauru and Australia when it comes to asylum seekers detained on the former.
Therefore the case for international intervention to remove these dangerously ill people from further serious harm becomes relevant
MSF, meanwhile, has called for “the immediate evacuation of all asylum seekers and refugees from Nauru and an end to Australia’s offshore detention policy”. And almost 6,000 Australian doctors have written to their government asking for the urgent relocation of children from offshore detention in Nauru.
So perhaps it’s time for a more drastic solution: the rescue of the refugees by either a UN body, or NGOs, or even the good people of Australia.
– Organise demonstrations outside the Australian High Commission (London) and Australian embassies elsewhere.
– Support MSF.
– Also support WACA (Whistleblowers, Activists and Citizens Alliance).
– For information and support regarding suicide prevention, contact the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 or Lifeline on 13 11 14. For more international helplines, see befrienders.org.
Featured image via screengrab
We need your help to keep speaking the truth
Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.
Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.
We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.
In return, you get:
* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop
Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.
With your help we can continue:
* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do
We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?