Self-immolation, hunger strikes and suicide: Children on Nauru want to die
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Self-immolation, hunger strikes and suicide: Children on Nauru want to die

Self-immolation, hunger strikes, self-harm and suicide are preferred by many children over living in Australia’s refugee camps on Nauru, while the government continues to assert “children grow up happy and healthy on our island.”

Social worker Fiona Owens, who was employed by International Health and Medical Services (IHMS) as the child mental health team leader in the asylum camp, told ABC News that children were desperate and wanted to end their lives.

“The only thing a lot of the children are thinking about is how to die. They Google it on the internet,” Owens said.

“The extreme possibilities are death of children, death of adults, continual death of adults and children.”

SEE ALSO: Rohingya refugee dies on Manus Island 5 years after Australia sent him there

Owens described working at Nauru as “an impossible job” as she witnessed whole families fall apart and lose hope of ever being resettled.

She is far from alone in her stories of pain and desperation on Nauru. A spate of harrowing stories of the mental state of young people on the island has prompted human rights groups to set a deadline of Nov 20 for the Australian government to get all children off the island, fearing dire consequences if nothing is done.

Sources described the wave of self-harm among children a “contagion,” telling The Guardian the situation on Nauru has grown “dangerously chaotic.”

Last week a 12-year-old girl tried to set herself on fire. Family and friends managed to stop her, but she reportedly sustained some injuries.

There has also been a disturbing spike in cases of “resignation syndrome” – a rare psychiatric condition that presents as a progressive social withdrawal and reluctance to engage in usual activities such as school and play.

Early on Friday morning, a 14-year-old refugee boy suffering a major depressive disorder and severe muscle wastage after not getting out of bed for four months, was flown directly from Nauru to Brisbane with his family. There are concerns, doctors say, he may never be able to walk normally again.

SEE ALSO: Australia: Pregnant refugees denied abortions at Nauru detention centre

The Guardian reported that three children had left the island since Thursday. But there are fears that it is not happening quickly enough as medical staff become overwhelmed after having dozens of referrals for care rejected by the Australian Border Force.

Refugees housed on Nauru were supposed to be resettled in the United States under a deal struck by former-president Barack Obama. But the newly-elected President Donald Trump called the deal “dumb” in his first phone call with then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull after his inauguration back in February.

The progress of resettlement has slowed following Trump’s travel ban that restricts access of people from seven Muslim majority countries.

According to ABC News, close to 250 people on Nauru had been resettled, with 939 asylum seekers and refugees remaining on the island. Of these, 137 are children.

The change of leadership in Australia is unlikely to have much impact in improving the lives of the refugees. Newly nominated Scott Morrison lead the charge on Australia’s tough immigration policy and spearheaded the controversial Operation Sovereign Borders policy that saw refugee boats turned back.

In June 2014, Morrison took his hard-line message directly to the refugees on Nauru.  In a controversial video he said, “If you choose not to go home then you will spend a very, very long time here.”