'Despairing' refugees must be removed from Nauru detention: MSF

Dr Christine Rufener Dr Beth O'Connor and Dr Paul Mc Phun from MSF address the media in Sydney on Thursday

MSF was the only organisation, not contracted by the Australian government, which was assisting asylum seekers.

"Children were presenting with depression and anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and we were seeing suicide attempts in children as young as nine years old", said psychiatrist Dr Beth O'Connor, who worked on Nauru for nearly the entirety of MSF's tenure there.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has pulled its mental health workers off Nauru on government orders, the medical charity said on Wednesday, calling the situation of asylum seekers and refugees on the Pacific island "beyond desperate".

"The Nauru government's decision to end MSF's health programme with only 24 hours' notice was callous and disgraceful". It added that the Australian government should transfer all refugee and asylum seeker children and their families to Australia.

As well as providing free mental health services for everyone on Nauru, MSF has trained and supported Nauruans as well as performing numerous outreach activities.

Australia's Department of Home Affairs said 418 people had now been resettled in the United States from both islands, but would not provide up-to-date data on how many refugees the United States had rejected. Others are unwilling to eat or drink, suffering from what is known as "resignation syndrome".

The Morrison government faces an enormous challenge in finding alternative resettlement places for the hundreds of refugees still on Nauru and Manus Island after more than five years, as Mr Trump's "extreme vetting" approach results in mass rejections.

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The Department of Home Affairs said it took seriously its role in supporting Nauru to "ensure that transferees are provided with a range of health, welfare and support services arrangements", and "this has not changed". Fathers lose hope that they will ever see their children again.

MSF had provided its refugee patients with their medical records which had been used in court applications for evacuation but MSF had no control over what patients did with their records, Dr O'Connor said. When MSF left, more than 100 people were on the waiting list to obtain medical assistance.

The federal government has refused calls for the refugees to be brought to Australia or be resettled in New Zealand, arguing that doing so would risk people smugglers restarting their trade. "While in my professional opinion there is no therapeutic solution for these patients as long as they are trapped on the island, I fear the withdrawal of MSF's psychiatric and psychological health care from Nauru will claim lives".

After 70 asylum seekers received negative responses to their asylum applications in May, the doctors said that there was a rapid deterioration in those people's physical and mental health.

"Separating families and forcibly holding men, women and children on a remote island indefinitely with no hope or protection except in the case of a medical emergency is cruel, inhumane and degrading", said McPhun.

In a rare and forceful statement, the apolitical medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has detailed the "absolute devastation" Australia's offshore detention policy has wrought on asylum seekers stuck on Nauru.

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