Loss of MSF mental health carers from Nauru heightens fears for children

Doctors Without Borders staff at a display tent during Nauru’s 50th independence celebrations in January. Image: MSF

Pacific Media Centre Newsdesk

Health and human rights advocates fear the mental ill-health of refugees on Nauru could worsen following the Pacific government’s move to scrap a vital support service.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF – Médecins Sans Frontières) was told on Friday its free psychological and psychiatric services, provided to both Nauruans and refugees since November 2017, were “no longer required”.

The medical aid agency was given 24 hours to cease operations which is comprised of a clinic at the Republic of Nauru Hospital and home visits.

READ MORE: Manus and Nauru background and updates

The organisation indicated a desire to find a way to continue its work, reports Australian Associated Press.

“At this stage MSF wishes to reiterate our strong commitment to providing quality mental health care to all those in need on the island,” a spokesperson said.

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“We are extremely concerned that the health of our patients may be affected by this decision and urge the authorities to grant us permission to continue our lifesaving work.”

The abrupt dismissal follows a report by two prominent Australian refugee organisations saying most refugee children on Nauru are experiencing life-threatening mental health problems, including not eating or drinking and showing suicidal symptoms.

An Australian protest over deteriorating conditions for children at the Nauru detention centre. Image: Al Jazeera

‘Add to distress’
Advocacy group Refugee Action Coalition said MSF’s absence would “add enormously to the distress among asylum seekers and refugees” because the Australian government’s contracted mental health care provider, International Health and Medical Services, was “stretched to breaking point”.

The Department of Home Affairs said on Saturday MSF’s dismissal was a matter for the Nauruan government and that it would continue to provide “appropriate healthcare and mental health support to refugees and asylum seekers through contracted service providers”.

MSF uses more than 30,000 doctors, nurses and other mostly volunteer personnel to provide medical aid in more than 70 countries.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Refugee children on Nauru ‘living without hope’, says advocacy group

Children outside RPC3 tents in Nauru … situation “untenable”. Image: Refugee Action Coalition/RNZ Pacific

By RNZ Pacific

A legal advocacy group has told the UN Human Rights Council that more than 100 asylum seeker and refugee children are living without hope on Nauru.

The Human Rights Law Centre addressed the latest council session in Geneva.

The centre’s Daniel Webb told the council that despite the fact the Australian government was professing its committment to human rights in Geneva, it continued to indefinitely imprison 102 children in its offshore detention centre on Nauru.

“Imprisoned for fleeing the same atrocities our government comes here and condemns. And after five years of detention, these children have now lost hope.

“Some have stopped speaking. Some have stopped eating. A 10-year-old boy recently tried to kill himself.”

Webb said if the detention was not stopped there would be deaths.

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He said even the government’s own medical advisers were warning that the situation was untenable.

“Yet the Australian government still refuses to free these kids, and is fighting case after case in our Federal Court to deny them access to urgent medical care. Mr President, we are talking about 102 children.”

Australia presented their concerns regarding human rights around the world at the same session but did not mention their detention camps on Nauru or Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island.

This article is republished under the Pacific Media Centre’s content partnership with Radio New Zealand.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

From rags to riches to rags again – the Forum’s hidden cost for Nauru

A child in Australia’s Nauru detention centre. Image: SBS/World Vision

ANALYSIS: By Dr Crosbie Walsh

Nauru hosts the Pacific Islands Forum — whose membership includes Australia, New Zealand and 16 Pacific Islands nations — from today until Wednesday when lofty ideas may help soften present realities.

The island, 56km south of the Equator and thousands of kilometres from anywhere else, is 21 km in size and its population is 11,000, 40 percent of whom have type 2 diabetes, 90 percent are unemployed and 94 percent obese – the highest rate in the world.

The island’s recent history is one of rags to riches and rags again.

READ MORE: Nauru faces media, security pressure ahead of Pacific Islands Forum

For most of the past century millions of tonnes of phosphate from bird droppings were mined and exported as fertiliser to Australia and New Zealand, leaving much of the area barren.

In 1970, the British Phosphate Commission handed over control to the Nauru government. Mining increased, briefly making Nauru the second most wealthy nation on earth based on GDP per capita, second only to the United Arab Emirates.

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Most of the phosphate was extracted through strip mining which leaves the earth largely barren, infertile, and unable to sustain plant life.

Currently, about 90 percent of the island is covered in jagged and exposed heaps of petrified coral, which is unsuitable for both building and agriculture. Additionally, runoff from mining sites has left the water in and around Nauru severely contaminated.

About 90 percent of Nauru is covered in jagged and exposed heaps of petrified coral … unsuitable for both building and agriculture. Image: CWB

Marine pollution
Researchers estimate that approximately 40 percent of the marine life has been lost due to this pollution. Additionally, the only remaining phosphate on the island would not produce a profit if mined.

In 1989, Nauru took Australia to the International Court of Justice over its actions during its administration of Nauru, and particularly its failure to remedy the environmental damage caused by phosphate mining.

An out-of-court settlement rehabilitated some of the mined-out areas. By 2000 no marketable phosphate remained.

An out-of-court settlement rehabilitated some of the mined-out areas on Nauru. By 2000 no marketable phosphate remained. Image: CWB

In 1993, the government won a legal case against Australia for its mismanagement. The reparations have been used for restoration projects, one of which is a detention centre for more than 1000 refugees seeking asylum in Australia.

Some have called Nauru an Australian “client state.”

Since then, the political and economic situation has worsened. The phosphate trust fund was mismanaged (thanks largely to the influence of a modern beachcomber) and most of its assets lost.

Corruption is reported as rampant. Searching desperately for an income, government
briefly facilitated and condoned money laundering, and now relies heavily on aid and income from the Australian refugee detention centre where conditions have been reported as “akin to torture”.

Disturbing report
This BBC report on the effects on refugee children is especially disturbing.

Both governments have kept the injustices perpetrated against these refugees quiet by limiting access to the island.

A media visa costs $8000, taking pictures inside the detention centre is forbidden; so is carrying a smart phone with a camera.

In 2015, Australia passed the Australian Border Force Act, which makes speaking out about the conditions inside its camps on Nauru, and Manus in PNG, punishable by a two-year prison sentence.

It will be interesting to see how both governments, and other members of the Pacific Islands Forum, including New Zealand that benefited greatly from Nauru phosphates, handle questions over the next two days — and whether the NGOs present ask the right ones.

Dr Croz Walsh is a retired development studies professor at the University of the South Pacific. In his blog, he comments on New Zealand, Fiji, and Pacific Islands issues of political and social interest.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

NZ offer still open for taking 150 refugees, says PM Ardern

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern talking to the media at Auckland University of Technology yesterday. Image: Rahul Bhattarai/PMC

By Rahul Bhattarai in Auckland

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has reaffirmed her country’s offer to take 150 refugees from Nauru and Manus Island shortly before she attends the Pacific Islands Forum leaders’ summit next week.

New Zealand’s offer to take in “150 refugees from across Nauru and Manus still stands”, she said at the official opening of a new science and technology building at Auckland University of Technology yesterday.

Nauru is hosting the 49th Forum but has a very tight media policy for the event including a ban on Australia’s public broadcaster ABC and a threat to revoke the visas of journalists who capture images of the refugees or detention centre facilities.

READ MORE: Aid groups call on Pacific leaders to end Nauru refugee ‘stain in region’

The country has also been trying to “clean up” the facilities before politicians and the media arrive for the week-long Forum and associated meetings from September 3-9 after years of alleged human rights violations.

Amnesty International alleged this week there was an “escalating health crisis” for refugee children on Nauru, saying the Australian government’s “shameful refugee policy” must top of the agenda of the Forum meeting.

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In an open letter co-signed by a coalition of 84 influential civil society organisations, Amnesty International called for an end to the “cruel and abusive refugee policy” which had led to more than 2000 women, men and children being “warehoused” on Nauru and Manus island in “cruel and degrading conditions” over the past five years.

Insight to refugees
Due to her short three-day visit to Nauru, Prime Minister Ardern did not have the time to meet individual refugees, but confirmed New Zealand’s stance.

“Having an insight as to the experience on Nauru, of course, that’s something I want to seek,” she said.

“But if I meet with the individual refugees, how do we decide who they would be?”

Ardern will speak to various different leaders from Pacific Island nations during her Nauru visit.

She said would use her time as productively as she could consider a range of issues from Pacific neighbours’ perspective.

Nauru has been an ongoing problem with its crackdown on the media.

The government’s ban on the ABC had drawn global condemnation from media freedom groups, including the Pacific Media Centre.

The Prime Minister was at AUT to open the new $120 million Engineering, Technology and Design building.

This is a digital era home with state of the art facilities for engineering, computer and mathematical sciences students at AUT’s city campus.

Rahul Bhattarai is a Postgraduate Diploma in Communication Studies student journalist who has been on an intensive assignment for Te Waha Nui this week. He is also on the Pacific Media Centre’s Pacific Media Watch freedom project.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Aid groups call on Pacific leaders to end Nauru refugee ‘stain in region’

Some of the children in the refugee camp on the island of Nauru. Image: SBS/Rural Australians for Fefugees/File

Pacific Media Watch Newsdesk

Amnesty International has joined 80 other NGOs in urging Pacific leaders to demand the closure of the Australian-funded immigration detention camp on Nauru  when they meet in the Pacific nation next week, reports SBS News.

The 18-nation Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) will hold its annual summit in Nauru from September 3-6, with delegates meeting just a few kilometres from the camp dubbed “Australia’s Guantanamo”.

Amnesty, along with the 80 other non-government organisations, released an open letter calling on PIF leaders to act and end “a stain on the region”.

READ MORE: Regional leaders must act to halt escalating child health crisis on Nauru

“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,” Amnesty’s Pacific researcher Roshika Deo said this week.

“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.”

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The rights groups said asylum-seekers on Nauru and PNG’s Manus Island were subjected to “cruel and degrading treatment” that must stop.

“[There are] widespread reports of violence against refugees in Papua New Guinea and violence and sexual harassment of women and children on Nauru,” the letter said.

200 people detained
There are more than 200 people in the Nauru facility, according to the Refugee Council of Australia, including dozens of children.

However, the Canberra-bankrolled facility has been an economic lifeline for Nauru, which has an area of only 21 sq km and has depleted its only natural resource, phosphate, reports SBS.

The Nauru government has imposed strict conditions on media covering the PIF summit, threatening to revoke journalists’ visas if they capture images of the camps or asylum-seekers.

It has also limited the number of reporters attending and barred Australia’s public broadcaster ABC, after taking exception to its coverage.

A child in Australia’s Nauru detention centre. Image: SBS/World Vision

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Data collection on children in Pacific ‘poor’, says UNICEF

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: Data collection on children in Pacific ‘poor’, says UNICEF

Pacific Media Centre Newsdesk

Poor data collection in several Pacific Island countries is obstructing UNICEF’s first assessment to measure progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals for children according to a report.

UNICEF’s report Progress for Children in the SDG Era warns that most Pacific countries may fail to meet some of the child-related SDGs which means children are at risk of being left behind in terms of improving health, sanitation, education, protection from violence, abuse and exploitation.

The report says there was a lack of data on child-related SDG targets such as the proportion of children living below the national poverty line, or having access to early childhood development initiatives, children attending lower secondary school, and the nutritional status of children.

UNICEF Pacific Representative Sheldon Yett said that data did not change the world themselves but make change possible “by identifying needs and gauging progress”.

Without investments in the collection and analysis of reliable data on behalf of the Pacific’s children, governments will not have the foundation to base decisions and actions to improve children’s lives.”

Widespread improvement needed
Pacific Island countries scored well below the average omposite score for data capacity of 74 out of a possible 100 in the region and Asia. The scores ranged from 32 for Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and the Republic of Marshall Islands (RMI) to 70 for Fiji.

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However, there are areas that several Pacific countries are on track to meet targets such as:

  • basic sanitation services where 9 countries are on track except FSM, Vanuatu, Kiribati and Solomon Islands;
  • basic water services where 11 countries are on track except RMI, Solomon Islands, and Kiribati; and
  • neonatal mortality where 8 countries are on track except for Kiribati, Nauru, FSM, Tuvalu and RMI.

Some of the key issues raised in the report that calls for significant acceleration include ending violence, abuse and exploitation of children, increase of children learning in primary school, and increase in the rate of immunisation coverage.

Pacific Island countries need to ensure a strong measurement component is added to service delivery systems in health, education, social services, or border control; have minimum data coverage for children; and stronger shared norms on data concerning children.

UNICEF said  how much government wouldl progress to meet SDGs would determine the future of children in the Pacific.

Article by AsiaPacificReport.nz