PHNOM PENH (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - 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”.
MSF said international staff had left Nauru, where it was providing mental health care to locals, refugees and those seeking asylum. Australia sends people trying to reach its shores to an offshore processing center there.
“MSF is deeply concerned for the health and wellbeing of its patients and describes the mental health situation of asylum seekers and refugees on the island as ‘beyond desperate,’” it said in a statement.
A spokeswoman for MSF told the Thomson Reuters Foundation earlier that the charity was negotiating with Nauru officials.
The Nauru president’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Around 900 people including an estimated 95 children are on Nauru, the Refugee Council of Australia said this month. It said experts had described them as “some of the most traumatized people they have ever seen”.
“Children as young as seven and 12 are now experiencing repeated incidents of suicide attempts and dousing themselves in petrol,” the advocacy group said.
Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said at the National Press Club of Australia on Wednesday that MSF had been contracted to provide services to locals, not to refugees and asylum seekers.
But MSF said early this year it was providing support to anyone on the island and training local people to treat psychological and psychiatric disorders.
Australia has 64 medical staff on Nauru, Dutton said, without specifying their expertise.
One refugee said she had been receiving treatment for depression from MSF.
“When I don’t take (the) medication, I am in trouble,” she said over the messaging app Telegram. “I really don’t know what to do now.”
Dutton said 418 people had gone to the United States under a deal with former President Barack Obama to accept 1,250 refugees, and added that he was seeking third country options for others.
Australia has repeatedly rejected New Zealand’s offer to settle 150 migrants.
Reporting by Jared Ferrie, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, resilience and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.