Foreign Affairs

Ardern to raise refugee crisis at Nauru forum

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has again pledged to raise the treatment of refugees in Nauru during a visit to the country, following the release of a new report detailing children’s attempts to commit suicide.

Ardern is heading to the island nation for the annual Pacific Islands Forum, with regional discussions overshadowed by the conditions of the approximately 900 asylum seekers still left there.

Nauru is one of a number of offshore detention sites set up the Australian Government as a means of deterring “boat people” from heading to the country.

Ardern confirmed she would be raising the detention of refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru during her time in the country, and said she hoped to meet people living on the island while she was there.

New Zealand has offered to resettle 150 refugees, an offer rejected by both Australia and Nauru.

Peters was looking into “what was feasible in this regard” in terms of the logistics of meeting with refugees, although Ardern said she would “not necessarily” have to consult with the Nauru Government before meeting any asylum seekers.

'Spiralling problems'

A report on the conditions at Nauru, jointly released on Monday by the Refugee Council of Australia and the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, outlined “increasing incidents of self-harm and spiralling mental health problems”, with young children among those on the island who have tried to kill or harm themselves.

Over 80 percent of the refugees have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, with depression, anxiety and other conditions widespread and treated “mostly through sedation”, the report said.

Refugee Council spokeswoman Kelly Nicholls told Newsroom those who had been following the plight of refugees on Nauru for the last six years were “deeply concerned” about the deterioration of their mental health over that time.

The organisation was particularly worried about the 109 children on the island who were suffering from traumatic withdrawal syndrome and in some cases attempting suicide.

“No parent manipulates their child to self-harm. These parents are in utter despair, and for the Nauruan Government to say that is just outrageous."

On social media, the Nauru government has accused families and activists of “manipulating” refugee children into harming themselves “in a disgusting and tragic political game” - claims rebuffed by Nicholls.

“No parent manipulates their child to self-harm. These parents are in utter despair, and for the Nauruan Government to say that is just outrageous, and it points to the fact that these people, specifically these families and these children are not being adequately cared for on Nauru.”

The Refugee Council had released the report to coincide with the forum, as it was “absolutely crucial that people are talking about the really stark and alarming reality on the ground”.

The Australian and Nauruan Governments were trying to keep the issue quiet, Nicholls said, with Australian media outlets including the ABC being refused visas, along with reports from the ground of refugees’ tents being pulled down and families being moved out of the RCP3 detention centre.

“This situation is not going anywhere, we really need an outcome, and if we don’t we’re just going to keep on seeing ongoing suffering and probably more deaths and possibly even children - we can't let that happen.”

“This is a unique set of circumstances: I don’t anticipate being in this situation again.”

Ardern was forced to defend her decision to fly to Nauru later than Peters and the rest of the delegation, meaning the RNZAF 757 must return to New Zealand to pick her up.

Ardern said she had spent “quite a bit of time” considering whether to go, as her daughter Neve is unable to travel with her as she was too young to receive the necessary vaccinations.

She had considered skipping the forum entirely, but believed it was too important to miss.

“This is a unique set of circumstances: I don’t anticipate being in this situation again.”

Officials had told her there would not be a significant additional cost, as the plane could not stay on Nauru due to a lack of space and it required a certain number of flying hours each year.

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