Politics

This New Report Reveals Everything The Government Doesn’t Want You To Know About Nauru

All of this is preventable.

Content warning: this article contains distressing descriptions of trauma, sexual assault, self harm, suicide, and serious physical and mental health problems. You can find support service numbers at the end of the story. 


A new report released today by the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and the Refugee Council of Australia cuts through government secrecy to reveal, in devastating detail, the suffering the Australian Government is actively supporting on Nauru today.

The report details six years of “Australia’s man-made refugee crisis” on Nauru, and the numbers are staggering. There are still approximately 900 people left in offshore detention on Nauru, including an estimated 109 children. All have been there for more than four years at this stage. According to UNHCR staff, over 80 percent of the people in offshore detention have been diagnosed with PTSD, trauma and depression.

Those are just the starter numbers. According to health workers on Nauru, there are currently 50 requests for overseas medical transfers that are being actively blocked by the Australian Border Force. Since 2015, 25 people with life-threatening symptoms have been transferred to Australia for medical care only after a court has ordered the government to do so. At least 24 women have been flown to Australia to access abortion services, in many cases after being raped. At least 35 people have been separated from their families, with family members scattered across Nauru, Papua New Guinea and Australia.

According to Amnesty International, by September 2016 no children in detention on Nauru were attending school, due to a combination of trauma, bullying and poor support services. Children have begun to develop a rare condition known as resignation syndrome, where they gradually stop sleeping, eating, speaking, and engaging with the world. Multiple children have attempted or spoken about self-harm or suicide, especially following family separations.

“We have heard of children swallowing razor blades and stones, trying to overdose, hanging themselves, attempting to jump from high places and dousing themselves in petrol,” the report’s authors wrote. “Children are hallucinating, withdrawing socially, repeatedly expressing a wish to die, hopelessness, unable to speak or speak in a flat tone, and live in constant fear. Many bang their heads and bodies regularly and repeatedly against walls in their distress. The former director of mental health services on Nauru, Dr Peter Young, has said that offshore detention amounts to torture.”

Meanwhile, an anonymous woman in detention on Nauru, whose family was separated after her husband was transferred to Australia, is quoted speaking about her child’s repeated talk of suicide following the family separation. “Two weeks ago, my son took the lighter,” she said. “He said, ‘I want to burn myself. Why should I be alive? I want my daddy. I miss my daddy.'”

None Of This Is New, And All Of It Is Preventable

Most of this information is not actually new. It has been reported in government inquiries and the media, shared by whistleblowers and activists. Back in 2014, four years ago, the psychiatrist in charge of mental health services in offshore detention described the Government’s treatment of asylum seekers as torture. In 2016, UNICEF concluded that there was no way that offshore processing could ever be in the best interests of a child.

Even before that, almost six years ago in 2013, the report notes that “Amnesty International reported that Australia’s policy of offshore processing was breaking people. Six years on, people are broken.”

“People are losing their hope and their lives on this island. This is Australia’s man-made refugee crisis.”

It’s hard to overstate how bad the situation on Nauru is. As the report puts it, “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 extraordinary efforts to suppress information coming out of Nauru, Australians and the world cannot claim they did not know what was happening to people. There have been widely publicised reports by the UN, the Australian Parliament, and human rights advocates documenting in grim detail the suffering we are inflicting. Both those who have worked on Nauru, and those trapped there, have spoken out movingly and bravely.”

“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.”

And yes, while the government has made backing down on its offshore detention policy incredibly hard, it is still entirely in the government’s power to do. As the ASRC and Refugee Council of Australia put it in the conclusion to their report, “these people can simply be brought to Australia, and should have been brought here years ago.”

“This is entirely within Australia’s power to achieve. The number of people involved is tiny. It would be an enormous cost saving to the government, and help to restore our credibility in the region and internationally. It would drain a poison that has been slowly engulfing our politics, our identity and our democracy.”

“After six years, we must acknowledge that too much damage has now been done for this to be a solution. We cannot give these people back their lives. Yet it is surely our duty to try.”

You can read the full report here, but be warned: it’s 19 full pages of absolutely abhorrent behaviour our government has actively supported for years. You can find out how to support the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and its work here, and the Refugee Council of Australia here.


If you need to talk to someone after reading this, or about any issues with your mental health and options getting long-term help, you can reach Lifeline on 13 11 14, or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.