Australia

Two more refugee suicide and self-harm incidents increase tally since Australia election

A refugee detained under Australia's offshore policy in Papua New Guinea. Source: Twitter/@Shamindan1

The number of self-harm and suicide attempts by asylum seekers detained under Australia's offshore detention policy has increased to at least 30 since the May 18 election, advocates say.

The number of self-harm and suicide attempts since the Coalition government's re-election on May 18 has surpassed 30, with two more incidents in the early hours of Monday morning. 

The Refugee Action Coalition says two asylum seekers are receiving treatment at Pacific International Hospital (PIH).

It is alleged a 30-year-old Somali refugee attempted to hang himself and in a separate incident, a 31-year-old Iranian refugee committed self–harm. 

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'Spiral downwards'

Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul said concerns remain around the federal government's response to the deteriorating health of asylum seekers and refugees under Australia's offshore detention policy. 

"The situation on Manus continues to spiral downwards," he said, “yet the government has no resettlement plan for those illegally held on Manus for almost six years.”

"The Australian government continues to persecute people that have been found to be owed international protection. Only 40 people have been transferred from Manus and Nauru for medical treatment since the Medevac Bill became law in February. There is an urgent need for the medical transfer of all those who are at risk on Manus and Nauru."

Manus Island detainee for six years Shamindan said the refugee who attempted suicide was "highly depressed" with his latest attempt representing his second try.

'An epidemic'

The Department of Home Affairs contracts health services provider PIH to provide healthcare to refugees, asylum seekers and non-refugees on Manus Island from a clinic based at the East Lorengau Refugee Transit Centre.

People requiring specialist treatment may be referred by PIH to the local hospital.

Former Manus Island MP Ronny Knight told SBS News last week that the local hospital on Manus Island was struggling to deal with the increased number of asylum seekers seeking medical treatment.

"They simply refer them [asylum seekers] to our local hospital for treatment when in many cases, often psychological, our hospital cannot cater for this," he said.

Describing the situation as an "epidemic", he urged the Australian government to transfer the refugees to Australia for medical treatment under the Medevac legislation.

The Medical Evacuation Response Group (MERG) - a coalition of organisations tasked with responding to refugees in need of care - says it has received an average of 11.5 applications for assistance from refugees per day since the Medivac bill was passed in February.

Morrison government vows to repeal legislation

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he is moving to repeal the legislation, claiming that the law would "weaken our borders". 

The Department of Home Affairs refused to comment on the incidents directly but re-issued a previous statement defending the level of resourcing provided for the healthcare of asylum seekers.

"The Australian Government continues to work closely with the Governments of PNG to ensure transferees are provided with appropriate health and welfare support services," the statement said.

"The Australian Government is committed to supporting the Governments of PNG by providing specialist and wide ranging health, welfare and support services."

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More than 500 refugees and asylum seekers are detained on Manus Island, three years after the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court ruled the detention of Australian asylum seekers on the island was unconstitutional.

The Manus Island processing centre at Papua New Guinea’s Lombrum Naval Base was shut down in November 2017, leaving hundreds of men stranded without valid travel documents.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 and Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 (up to age 25). More information about mental health is available at Beyond Blue.

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