A new report has documented the terrible lives of about 100 children and about 800 adults held on Nauru by the Australian Government.
The report, Australia’s man-made crisis on Nauru: Six years on, by the Refugee Council of Australia and the Asylum Seeker Refugee Council, describes the litany of tragedy and death on the island nation, and the stone-walling of the Australian Government in not allowing desperately ill people to be transferred to the mainland for specialist care.
You can read the executive summary below. And read the full report here. And read about New Zealand’s offer to resettle currently on Nauru. And read about an open letter by Amnesty International to Pacific leaders.
First is a table summarising publicly reported cases of children with life-threatening mental and physical symptoms.
Desperately ill children
|Incident||Date of report|
|The Federal Court orders the transfer of a young girl at extreme risk of suicide||9 Feb 2018|
|A 10-year-old boy, who attempted suicide three times and needed surgery, was ordered to be transferred to Australia by the Federal Court. His father had been transferred to Australia.||21 Mar 2018|
|A young girl, not yet a teenager, who attempted suicide three times, was transferred to Australia after an urgent application was lodged in the Federal Court.||14 Apr 2018|
|A 14-year-old girl, who had been on Nauru for nearly five years, doused herself in petrol and tried to set her alight, but the then Immigration Minister refused to transfer her until her case was before an Australian court.||7 Jul 2018|
|A 17-year-old boy who was acutely unwell and suffering psychosis, rarely ate and did not go to school was ordered to be flown to Australia with his mother.||13 July 2018|
|An adolescent girl, suffering from a severe major depressive order and traumatic withdrawal syndrome, was ordered to be transferred to Australia by the Federal Court.||1 Aug 2018|
|A critically unwell refugee baby and his parents were flown to Sydney for diagnosis and treatment||3 Aug 2018|
|A 12-year-old boy, on the island for five years, had been refusing food and fluids for nearly two weeks and was considered to be suffering from ‘resignation syndrome’. He was eventually flown to Brisbane four days after an urgent overseas medical referral by air ambulance. By the time of transfer, he weighed 36 kilograms and could not stand. His mother and sister were transferred but were detained.||16 Aug 2018|
|A 17-year-old girl, once dreaming of becoming a doctor, has been diagnosed with resignation syndrome and is refusing all food, fluid and medical treatment. She has now been transferred.||22 Aug 2018|
|A 12-year-old girl, who had already made several attempts to kill herself, tried to set herself on fire.||22 Aug 2018|
|Two children were moved off the island with their families on 23 August 2018.||25 Aug 2018|
|A 14-year old boy, suffering a major depressive order and severe muscle wastage after not getting out of bed for four months, was flown directly from Nauru to Brisbane with his family.||25 Aug 2018|
Source: Australia’s man-made crisis on Nauru: Six years on. A report by the Refugee Council of Australia and the Asylum Seeker Refugee Council
Australia’s man-made crisis on Nauru: Six years on– Executive summary
Six years after the Australian government began sending people seeking asylum to Nauru, there are still around 900 people left on the island, including an estimated 109 children.1All of them will have been there for over four years. Almost 200 people lived in a processing centre, including 14 children,2until they were cleared out along with tents and temporary accommodation they were living in for the Pacific Islands Forum.3
In 2013, Amnesty International reported that Australia’s policy of offshore processing was breaking people.4Six years on, people are broken. Children as young as 7 and 12 are experiencing repeated incidents of suicide attempts, dousing themselves in petrol, and becoming catatonic. At least two people have killed themselves, and three others have died. Many more are trying to kill or harm themselves. People are losing their hope and their lives on this island. This is Australia’s man-made refugee crisis in the country it still treats as a colony, Nauru.
Highly traumatised people
Experts are saying that the people transferred to Nauru by Australia are among the most traumatised they have seen, even more traumatised than those in war zones or in refugee camps around the world. Despite repeated calls by the United Nations, medical bodies, hundreds of charities and community groups, both major political parties in Australia continue to believe that it is politically necessary to punish a small number of highly vulnerable people at extraordinary cost. Those costs are borne not only by those people, but also by Australian taxpayers and by Australia’s democracy and sense of itself as a humane, decent country.
Despite unprecedented efforts at secrecy by both governments, Australians and the world cannot claim they do not know what is happening on Nauru. There have been many reports by the Australian Parliament, by civil society organisations and the UN documenting sexual and other forms of abuse, of seriously de- ficient medical treatment and appalling conditions amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Many of those living there have spoken out and shared their suffering at great risk to themselves, as have brave whistleblowers who have worked there.
Beyond our worst fears
What is happening now on Nauru has gone well beyond our worst fears when this policy was resumed in 2012. Australia’s policy has traumatised children so much that they are giving up eating and trying to kill themselves. Australian courts are increasingly forced to step in so that people can get the medical treatment they urgently need, as the Australian Government repeatedly ignores doctors’ advice and does everything it can to avoid people being transferred to Australia, including sending them to Taiwan and Papua New Guinea. It has even tried to coerce a 63-year-old man to die in Taiwan, and to send a woman to Papua New Guinea to terminate her pregnancy, despite it being illegal there.
It has also separated around 35 people from their families, between Nauru, Papua New Guinea and Australia. There are fathers who have never held their babies, mothers who have had to leave behind their children on Nauru. By insisting that family members stay behind when others need medical treatment, the Australian Government puts people’s lives at risk. In one case, by the time the Australian Government agreed to let a young boy with traumatic withdrawal syndrome be transferred with his family, he was 36 kilograms and could not even stand. Every family member of every child (except for parents staying in hospital) has been detained once they got to Australia.
For many there is no end in sight. While the Government of the United States of America has offered to resettle up to 1,250 refugees, only around 371 people have so far left, almost two years since the agreement. At least 121 refugees have already been refused resettlement, and many people are from countries subject to ‘extreme vetting’. Of the seven people who took up Cambodia’s offer of resettlement, only one is reported to still be there.
New Zealand offer
Australia still adamantly refuses to even accept the offer of the New Zealand government to resettle 150 people, even though it has conceded that there will be no other third countries coming forward to resettle those left. It continues to double down on its position that they will never come to Australia, even for the handful of people who have family in Australia or for those raped in Nauru.
There are many real and very complex refugee crises in the world. There are more refugees in the world than people in Australia at the moment. Yet there is a very simple solution to the man-made refugee crisis on Nauru – and six years on, it is clearer than ever that it is the only possible solution: the suffering must end, and Australia must bring them all here now.
- As of 29 August 2018. The number is constantly changing due to medical transfers.
- As of 30 June 2018: Department of Home Affairs, Immigration and Community Detention Statistics Summary (30 June 2018) <https://www.homeaffairs.gov.au/ReportsandPublications/Documents/statistics/immigration-detention-statistics-26-april-2018.pdf>. As of 27 August 2018, no updated statistics have been published.
- Helen Davidson, Saba Vasefi, and Ben Doherty, ‘Nauru’s asylum seeker tents demolished ahead of Pacific Islands Forum’ The Guardian (29 August 2018) <https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/29/naurus-asylum-seeker-tents-demolished-ahead-of-pacific-islands-forum>.
- Amnesty International, This Is Breaking People (11 December 2013) <http://www.amnesty.org.au/images/uploads/about/Amnesty_International_Manus_Island_report.pdf>.
Republished with permission of the Refugee Council of Australia and the Asylum Seeker Refugee Council