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Nauru refugees: The island where children have given up on life


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Virginia Harrison, BBC News

Suicide attempts and horrifying acts of self-harm are drawing fresh attention to the suffering of refugee children on Nauru, in what is being described as a "mental health crisis".

The tiny island nation, site of Australia's controversial offshore processing centre, has long been plagued with allegations of human rights abuses.  But a series of damning media reports recently has also highlighted a rapidly deteriorating situation for young people.

"We are starting to see suicidal behaviour in children as young as eight and 10 years old," says Louise Newman, professor of psychiatry at the University of Melbourne who works with families and children on the island.

"It's absolutely a crisis."

A loss of hope


Australia intercepts all asylum seekers and refugees who try to reach its shores by boat. It insists they will never be able to resettle in Australia, so over the years has sent many to privately run "processing centres" it funds on Nauru and in Papua New Guinea.

Groups working with families on Nauru paint a brutal picture of life for children on the island. Many have lived most of their life in detention, with no idea of what their future will be.

The trauma they have endured, coupled with poor - and often dangerous conditions - contribute to a sense of hopelessness.

Natasha Blucher, detention advocacy manager at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC), was unable to share details of specific cases with the BBC due to privacy and safety concerns.

But she said ASRC works with about 15 children who have either made repeated suicide attempts or are regularly self-harming.   She also believes the problem has reached crisis point.  

ASRC, like most advocates and medical professionals, assist families on Nauru remotely as access to the island is heavily restricted.

It estimates at least 30 children are suffering from traumatic withdrawal syndrome - also known as resignation syndrome. It's a rare psychiatric condition where sufferers, as a response to severe trauma, effectively withdraw from life. 

The condition can be life-threatening as victims become unable to eat and drink.
 


Virginia Harrison, BBC, 01/09/2018


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