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Mental health crisis on Manus Island

Manus Island is an offshore Australian immigration detention centre facility which houses asylum seekers who arrive in Australia via boat, which is illegal under the Migration Act 1958 and the Migration Regulations 1994. Offshore detention is purposefully designed to be dehumanising and ruthless in order to deter people from trying to resettle in Australia. It was ‘officially’ closed in 2017, however detained men were forced to resettle elsewhere on the island.


Yesterday, a refugee on Manus Island lit himself on fire in an attempt to commit suicide. There have been rapidly rising suicides and attempted suicides by the refugees and asylum seekers on Manus since the recent federal election. In fact, there have been over 70 cases of self-harm and suicide attempts on Manus since the re-election of the Liberal Party in Federal Government in Australia.


Honestly, this culture of mass self-harm and suicide does not come as a surprise to me, nor anyone else who closely follows the Australian Government, both Liberal and Labour political parties. Blatant discrimination and racism, lack of empathy, and overall careless attitude is projected onto this very vulnerable group of people who need our help. These men that remain on Manus Island are detained in abysmal conditions which exacerbates negative mental health and mental illness, and all signs point to the fact that the Australian Government doesn’t seem to care about the inhumane treatment of these people.


Manus Island
Source: Sydney Morning Herald


Asylum seekers and refugees suffer gross human rights violations in detention facilities. For instance, there have been cases of guards murdering detainees, people dying due to no medical resources to treat infections, and people held in violent and dangerous circumstances.Physical and sexual assault being common, there is a culture of abuse that borders on torture in detention centres of Australia that breach international law under the UN Declaration of Human Rights and the Rome Statute.


The election has served as a final blow to the hopes of the asylum seekers who were hoping to be resettled in New Zealand after promises from the Labor Party if they won the election. This loss of hope has sparked a severe mental health crisis on Manus Island due to desperation and hopelessness of ever living a better life, especially considering the Liberal Party plans to overturn the Medevac Laws. The Home Affairs Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2018 allows refugees in dire medical need to be transported to Australia for life saving treatments.


The health crisis persists due to a lack of resources and funding. For instance, there are around 600 detained people on Manus, and there is only 1 small hospital and health clinic which suffer from being severely understaffed and underfunded. There is also only one qualified psychiatrist on the island.


There used to be mental health and trauma care available to those on Manus, but in 2018 the business who supplied these services’ contract was terminated. These are some decisions the government has made that shows a lack of compassion and absolute negligence to those who remain on Manus.


crisis Manus Island refugees
Source: ABC


Unfortunately, the government relies on media outlets to post coverage that vilifies the detainees who are actually victims of our injust offshore detainment system. This generates support from Australian citizens who are xenophobic and afraid to open our land up to those who are percieved as different. This is devastating to the asylum seekers as Australia has a reputation for giving everyone a fair go, but we don’t really, do we?


This can be seen in the response to the mental health crisis. Australia has been happy to sit back and watch as Papua New Guinea’s controversial police unit – who has been accused of rape, murder and other serious crimes against refugees – has come to ‘monitor’ the situation and ensure no more suicides or attempted suicides occur.


We all know that the presence of police will not decrease mental illness, and negative mental health as these issues stem from being detained long-term in detention facilities with inadequate care, being separated from families, having an unknown future, and feelings of hopelessness and desperation. Adequate treatment is necessary if there is any hope of stemming this mental health crisis before it claims any more lives.


It would be prudent for Australians to remember that we are responsible for these people and what their lives have become! Nothing will really change unless Australia agrees to open our lands to those who have fled persecution from their countries of origin and allow them to resettle here where they can be safe and lead lives worth living. That is how the government can stop this mental health crisis from spreading.


The government and Australian citizens need to remember that granting equal human rights for others does not mean less rights for you.


Feature Image: Herald Sun