Child refugees in Nauru camp struggle to eat, drink, talk: MSF

Blanche Robertson
October 13, 2018

"It is the Australian government's policy of indefinite offshore detention that destroyed (refugees') resilience, shattered all hope and ultimately impacted their mental health", MSF Australia executive director Paul McPhun told reporters in Sydney on Thursday.

But Dr McPhun said Mr Dutton was "clearly ill-informed" because the first page of the memorandum of understanding with the Nauruan government made clear that refugees and asylum seekers would be provided services "with no discrimination". "It's not MSF's psychiatrists and psychologists that should be leaving Nauru; it's the hundreds of asylum seekers and refugees that Australia has trapped on the island for the past five years that should be leaving". It said experts had described them as "some of the most traumatised people they have ever seen".

Fairfax Media understands IHMS and Medecins Sans Frontieres were close to finalising a clinical management agreement to improve co-operation between the two agencies for the hundreds of refugees who remain on Nauru. The doctors had been offering free medical care for the asylum seekers and refugees that were sent there, as well as for the local citizens, since setting foot on the country in late 2017.

While the Australian government has retorted that staff from International Health and Medical Services (IHMS) visit Nauru, McPhun said that the refugees do not trust them given they are being paid by a government that prevents them from leaving or indefinitely imprisons them.

"You can't wind a programme down in a couple of days". As MSF doctors say, it is medically irresponsible. That would not have been the way that MSF would have gone about relinquishing its responsibilities for the healthcare of a population.

After 70 asylum seekers received negative responses to their asylum applications in May, the doctors said that there was a rapid deterioration in those people's physical and mental health.

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"The hospital employs one full-time psychiatrist and that person does not even speak English".

MSF said it expected the humanitarian crisis to get worse as a refugee swap deal with the United States drags on. "Many were not able to toilet themselves", Dr O'Connor said.

"Children were presenting with depression and anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and we were seeing suicide attempts in children as young as nine years old", said psychiatrist Dr Beth O'Connor, who worked on Nauru for nearly the entirety of MSF's tenure there.

"There is a lack of independent opinions and that is problematic".

The Australian government has continually stated that care and welfare of refugees and asylum seekers, which has included several deaths and many suicide attempts, is a matter for the Nauruan government.

The psychiatrist said MSF had treated refugees suffering from anxiety, depression and post traumatic stress disorder, who were experiencing suicide ideation and had committed acts of self harm and had attempted suicide.

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