Nauru refugees suffering from 'extreme' mental health issues


The majority of those in Australia-run immigration detention camps on the Pacific island of Nauru are suffering from "extreme" and "inhumane" levels of mental health issues, according to Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

In a new report titled "Indefinite Despair" presented on Monday, the international medical charity said 60 percent of its patients on Nauru are experiencing suicidal thoughts and 30 percent have attempted to take their own lives, including children as young as 9.

MSF said the mental-health suffering on Nauru is among the most severe the charity has witnessed globally, including its projects which provide care for victims of torture.

The group provided free medical care for refugees, as well as local Nauruans, from November 2017 to early October 2018, when the Nauru government abruptly forced it to leave. MSF said the extreme suffering of the migrants, a vast majority of whom have been classified genuine refugees, is "due to the Australian policy of indefinite offshore processing".

Since 2013, Australia's government has been implementing a widely-criticised policy of incarcerating migrants and asylum seekers trying to reach the country by boat in offshore facilities on Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus Island.

Among 208 patients seen by MSF doctors, 62 percent had been diagnosed with moderate or severe depression. Six percent had been diagnosed with resignation syndrome, a rare condition where patients are unable to eat or drink and are in a semi-comatose state.

"The medical data we release today confirms the heart-breaking reality that I witnessed on Nauru," said Christine Rufener, clinical psychologist, who was working for the MSF on Nauru. "Every day I worried which of my patients might attempt to take their own lives, because after five years of waiting people had lost all sense of hope."

"While many of our patients had experienced trauma, it was the Australian policy of indefinite processing that destroyed all their hope for the future and devastated their mental health," she said.

The MSF report said that although three-quarters of refugee and asylum seeker patients reported experiencing traumatic events before reaching Nauru, such as conflict situations or detention, it was the situation on Nauru that was most damaging to their mental health.

"Being trapped in indefinite limbo for five years with unclear and unjust processes has led to widespread feelings of hopelessness," Stewart Condon, MSF Australia president, told reporters in Canberra.

"The evidence unequivocally shows that people's mental health is at serious risk when being held in detention. This is unacceptable, inhumane and, frankly, dangerous."

The exact numbers of refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island is not known because the Australian government does not give exact figures. But it is estimated there are more than 600 men and women on Nauru, as well as about a dozen children and similar number of men on Manus Island, according to refugee advocates.

The MSF report came as protesters rallied outside Parliament House in Canberra pushing the government to remove refugees from detention.    (dpa)

More on this topic
In submitting this comment, the reader accepts the following terms and conditions: reserves the right to edit or delete comments or not to publish them. This applies in particular to defamatory, racist, personal, or irrelevant comments or comments written in dialects or languages other than English. Comments submitted by readers using fantasy names or intentionally false names will not be published. will not provide information on the telephone. Readers' comments can be found by Google and other search engines.