Pacific Islands Forum: Regional leaders must act to halt escalating child health crisis in Nauru

The escalating health crisis for refugee children on Nauru and the Australian government’s shameful refugee policy must be at the top of the agenda when regional heads of government meet at the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) next week, said Amnesty International, in an open letter co-signed by a coalition of 84 influential civil society organizations.

The letter urges PIF leaders to call for an immediate end to Australia’s cruel and abusive refugee policy, which has seen more than 2000 women, men and children warehoused on Nauru & Manus Island in cruel and degrading conditions over the past five years.

Pacific Island leaders cannot ignore this issue any longer and need to ensure that it is at the very top of the forum’s agenda
Roshika Deo, Amnesty International’s Pacific Researcher

“Pacific Island leaders cannot ignore this issue any longer and need to ensure that it is at the very top of the forum’s agenda,” said Roshika Deo, Amnesty International’s Pacific Researcher.

“This is a desperate situation that requires urgent action. Regional leaders must show that they will not stand by while the Australian government’s abusive policies continue to risk more lives. It is a stain on the region.” 

Earlier this week three medical professionals warned that refugee children on Nauru are facing an unprecedented health crisis and are at real risk of death. Documents leaked to media in Australia reveal horrific incidences of self-harm, including a 14-year-old child who "had poured petrol over herself and had a lighter", and another 10-year-old refugee who "attempted to self-harm by ingesting some sharp metal objects".

“The system is clearly broken if children are even considering self-harm,” said Roshika Deo.

The release of this disturbing information came only a week after a critically ill 12-year-old boy was finally flown to Australia for medical treatment, following repeated delays by the Australian government in transferring him, despite medical advice that he was at imminent risk of dying.

These shocking revelations come at a time when the Australian government has begun winding back health services and other support to refugees, including the removal of access to psycho-social support and translators in the last year.

Amnesty International is calling on the Australian government to end offshore processing and immediately transfer refugees and asylum seekers in Manus and Nauru to Australia or to another safe third country. Pacific Island Forum leaders must ensure the human rights of refugees in their territories are protected.

The Pacific Islands Forum, an intergovernmental organization that aims to promote cooperation between the countries of the Pacific, will take place in Nauru from 3-6 September.

Background

The open letter is available here.

On 19 July 2013, Australia enacted a policy that meant anyone who arrived by boat anywhere in Australia – including the mainland – would be barred from seeking asylum in the country. Instead, any persons arriving by boat would be transferred to Manus Island in Papua New Guinea or Nauru, and even those recognised as refugees would never be allowed to settle in Australia.

More than 1600 people remain on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea and Nauru, with the majority being assessed as refugees. Under a bilateral agreement, whereby the US government agreed to settle up to 1,250 refugees, nearly 400 refugees have been sent to the US in the past year. However, hundreds of people are likely to remain on Manus Island and Nauru in abysmal conditions indefinitely, with no clear plans for their future.

In Papua New Guinea, refugees and people seeking asylum have been violently attacked by locals, contractors and the authorities. In Nauru, there have been widespread reports of physical and sexual abuse, including against women and children. Nauru and Papua New Guinea are unable to provide protection for refugees and asylum seekers and the Australian government refuses to accept responsibility for refugees and asylum seekers who remain under its effective control in these territories.