Whistleblowers fear for refugees on Nauru

Three whistleblowers have warned refugee children on Nauru are facing an unprecedented health crisis and are at risk of death.

The island of Nauru is home to a refugee camp - but will also host international delegates.

The island of Nauru is home to a refugee camp - but will also host international delegates. Source: Getty

Many refugee children on Nauru are deliberately harming themselves, three whistleblowers have said.

Leaked documents compiled by immigration workers and obtained by the ABC's 7.30 program reveal a spate of self-harm incidents on the island.

One incident report from June 2018 said a 14-year-old refugee child poured petrol over herself and had a lighter.

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Another report from June showed a 10-year-old refugee attempted self-harm by ingesting some sharp metal objects, which were consistent with fencing wire.

Refugees on Nauru.
Refugees on Nauru. Source: AAP


Former child psychologist Vernon Reynolds, who was employed on the island by the Australian government's healthcare contractor from August 2016 to April 2018, is concerned that some refugee children could die.

"I'm reasonably surprised that no-one has," the former International Health and Medical Services worker told 7.30.

"I certainly hope that nothing fatal happens, I am deeply concerned that we will see that."



Dr Reynolds said the children were exhibiting signs of severe trauma.

"They stop eating much, they stop drinking much, they stop looking after the day-to-day self cares."

There were 939 refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru as of May 2018, including 137 children. Refugees on Nauru live in the community and are not held in the regional processing centre.

Social worker Fiona Owens was employed by IHMS as the child mental health team leader from May to July 2018.

Ms Owens alleged she witnessed alarming rates of self-harm among refugee children.



Jacinta O'Leary, who was a nurse and midwife on the island from June to September 2017, spoke of the difficulties for pregnant refugees seeking terminations in a nation where abortions are illegal.

A spokeswoman from the Department of Home Affairs said Australia provided significant support to Nauru to provide health and welfare services, with various providers contracted to offer age-appropriate care.

A spokeswoman the Government of Nauru declined to answer the program's questions, while an IHMS spokeswoman said it was not at liberty to discuss the issues raised.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact  on 13 11 14, Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 and Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 (for young people aged 5 to 25).


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2 min read
Published 27 August 2018 at 11:24am
Source: SBS