Migrants and Refugees

Act Fast! Australia Urges Quick Release of Offshore Detainees Struggling Mentally!

Australia should end its offshore processing policy on the Pacific islands of Nauru and Papua New Guinea amid reports of widespread, acute mental distress and attempted suicide by children and young adults, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Friday.

“In one of the various cases brought to our attention during September, a suicidal pre-teenage girl remains in Nauru despite doctors’ advice to the contrary,” UNHCR spokesperson Catherine Stubberfield told journalists in Geneva. “Medical records seen by UNHCR staff show she first doused herself in petrol, before attempting to set herself alight and pulling chunks of hair from her head.”

According to UNHCR, more than 1,400 people are still being held on both islands, which have hosted Australia-bound migrants and asylum-seekers forcibly transferred there, since 2013.

The UN agency’s appeal to the Australian authorities echoes a warning from non-governmental organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) which pulled out of Nauru last week, at the request of the island’s authorities.

In the last 11 months on Nauru, according to MSF, at least 78 people attempted suicide, had suicidal thoughts or self-harmed.

Amid a “collapsing health situation”, UNHCR explained that around 500 people have been returned to Australia on medical grounds, but this is “significantly lower” than all those with acute needs.

There have been no returns from Papua New Guinea to Australia this year, the UN agency noted, despite “several instances” of self-harm or attempted suicide there in the past month.

In addition, a number of people with acute physical and mental needs remain untreated, UNHCR said.

“This policy has failed on a number of measures,” Mrs Stubberfield said. “It’s failed to protect refugees, it’s failed to provide even for their most basic needs throughout a period that now exceeds five years. And it’s failed to provide solutions for a substantial number that is still waiting and can clearly no longer afford to wait.”

The UNHCR spokesperson reported that of the 12 people who have died since Australia began detaining migrants and refugees offshore, half had been confirmed or suspected suicides. The mental health of those being held on the islands was worsening, she added.

“Our own consultant medical experts in 2016 found a cumulative prevalence of anxiety, depression and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) in both Papua New Guinea and Nauru, to be well above 80 per cent, and the situation has deteriorated since then,” Ms. Stubberfield said. “So, there are very serious needs that are not being met. There’s no longer time for the Government of Australia to delay or find other solutions, and it’s for that reason that we’re asking people be evacuated today.”

‘Responsibility lies with Australia’

Highlighting the case of a young Iranian man who took his life in June after spending “most of his adult life” in offshore processing, the UNHCR spokesperson underscored Australia’s obligations to those under its care.

“Ultimately, responsibility lies with Australia for those who have sought its protection,” Ms. Stubberfield said. “As we mentioned, this is a system designed, financed, managed by Australia, and it’s Australia which must be accountable for the full gamut of those consequences.”

Among UNHCR’s concerns is the lack of basic services available to vulnerable migrants and asylum-seekers.

Only “limited” healthcare is provided on both islands by sub-contractors on hire from the Australian Government, Ms. Stubberfield said, describing the service as “under-resourced and under-staffed”.



  1. “It’s imperative that Australia takes immediate action to evacuate the detainees from Nauru and Papua New Guinea. The distress and suffering these individuals are experiencing, especially the children and young adults, cannot be ignored. The reports of suicide attempts and self-harm highlight the urgent need for a change in policy. The well-being of these individuals should be the top priority, and Australia must act swiftly to address this crisis.”

  2. It is distressing to read about the severe mental struggles faced by innocent children and young adults on Nauru and Papua New Guinea. Australia must urgently put an end to the offshore processing policy and prioritize the well-being of these vulnerable individuals. The reported cases of attempted suicide and mental distress are unacceptable and require immediate action.

  3. Australia must take immediate action to end the offshore processing policy and prioritize the well-being of vulnerable detainees, especially children and young adults. It’s heartbreaking to hear about the severe mental distress and suicide attempts. The authorities must act swiftly to prevent further harm and uphold basic human rights.

  4. It is crucial that Australia acts swiftly to end the offshore processing policy and ensure the well-being of detainees struggling mentally in Nauru and Papua New Guinea. The harrowing accounts of mental distress and suicide attempts, particularly among children and young adults, demand immediate action to prevent further tragedies.

  5. Is it really ethical to continue detaining people in such conditions despite the evident impact on their mental health? What steps is the government taking to address this urgent issue?

    1. It is indeed crucial to prioritize the well-being of those detained in such distressing circumstances. Immediate action must be taken to provide mental health support and ensure humane treatment for all individuals affected. The government should swiftly act upon these alarming reports and work towards a compassionate resolution.

  6. It’s imperative that Australia promptly closes the offshore detention centers in Nauru and Papua New Guinea to prevent further harm to the vulnerable individuals, especially the young ones, trapped in distressing conditions. The reports of self-harm and suicide attempts highlight the urgent need for action to ensure the well-being and safety of these detainees. The international community must come together to address this humanitarian crisis and provide immediate assistance to those suffering.

  7. Should Australia be doing more to prioritize the mental well-being of these offshore detainees on Nauru and Papua New Guinea?

    1. Yes, Australia’s urgent action is crucial in ensuring the mental well-being of these offshore detainees on Nauru and Papua New Guinea is prioritized. The reported cases of mental distress and suicide attempts demand immediate intervention and a reconsideration of the offshore processing policy. It’s a humanitarian crisis that cannot be ignored.

  8. “Australia must act swiftly to address the urgent mental health crisis of offshore detainees. It is heartbreaking to hear about the traumatic experiences faced by vulnerable children and young adults in Nauru and Papua New Guinea. The government needs to prioritize the well-being of these individuals and put an end to the suffering they are enduring.”

  9. The situation is extremely dire and urgent action is needed to address the mental distress and suffering of these detainees. Australia must act quickly to release them from the harmful conditions they are enduring on these islands.

  10. It is imperative that Australia takes immediate action to address the mental health crisis among the offshore detainees. The distressing reports of children attempting suicide demand urgent intervention. The policy of holding migrants on Nauru and Papua New Guinea must come to an end to prevent further harm.

  11. Isn’t it alarming that young children are facing such severe mental distress in detention centers? When will Australia take decisive action to address this humanitarian crisis?

  12. It is crucial that Australia acts swiftly to end the suffering of these vulnerable individuals on Nauru and Papua New Guinea. The mental distress and suicide attempts among children and young adults are alarming, and immediate action is needed to ensure their well-being and safety.

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