Asia-Pacific

'Extremely concerned': Twelve-year-old refugee on hunger strike in Nauru

The Government of Nauru has blocked the medical evacuation of a refugee needing urgent treatment for depression and trauma-related condition. Source: AAP

A refugee advocacy group has sounded the alarm over a young boy's hunger strike on Nauru.

A 12-year-old refugee boy is almost a fortnight into a hunger strike on Nauru, according to a refugee advocacy group.

Refugee Action Coalition spokesperson Ian Rintoul told SBS News on Thursday the boy has been "refusing food for almost two weeks" and is "only being sustained by intravenous fluids".

"We are extremely concerned for his welfare ... Like many other children [on Nauru], he has a long history of depression and mental health problems," he said.

Mr Rintoul said the boy, originally from Iran, was being taken care of at the International Health and Medical Services (IHMS) clinic on the island.

"Offshore detention and the dysfunctional conditions in Nauru has resulted in many children having intractable mental and physical health problems," he said.

An aerial view of Nauru.
An aerial view of Nauru.
Getty Images

It was a point echoed by the detention advocacy manager at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Natasha Blucher.

"There are 119 children remaining on Nauru after five years of the Australian Government's offshore processing regime," Ms Blucher told SBS News.

"Their despair and hopelessness is at a critical level. We are terrified that a child will die, and are pleading with the Australian Government to bring them to Australia to safety."

We are terrified that a child will die.

Natasha Blucher, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre

SBS News contacted the Department of Home Affairs with questions about how long the 12-year-old has refused food, his condition and medical treatment options.

A spokesperson said, "the department does not comment on individual cases". 

"A range of health services are available in Nauru including general practitioners, psychiatrists, counsellors, mental health nurses and specialists who provide clinical assessment and treatment in-country," the spokesperson said.

"Decisions about medical transfers are made on a case by case basis according to clinical need, in consultation with the contracted health services provider and the Government of Nauru."

It comes one day after rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) slammed the Australian Government for helping create a "news black hole" in Nauru.

Few foreign journalists have had access to Nauru in recent years, with many hampered by the $8,000 charge per visa application, non-refundable even if it's not granted.

Nauru has also severely limited how many journalists can cover next month's Pacific Island Forum meeting, restricting the total number of media workers to just 30.

While more than 300 people have now been transferred from Manus Island and Nauru to the US under a deal with Australia, more than 1,500 people remain in offshore detention.

Thousands of people marched in rallies across Australia last month to mark the fifth anniversary of offshore processing, which began under the Rudd government.

The offshore policy is designed to deter people embarking on treacherous sea journeys, but the United Nations and other rights groups have criticised the camps' conditions and long detention periods.

Additional reporting: AAP, AFP

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