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MSF responds to forced evacuation off Nauru

Medecins Sans Frontieres has responded to their forced evacuation off Nauru, leaving hundreds of patients vulnerable

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has condemned the sudden decision to end its critical mental health services in Nauru, warning the situation will worsen in its absence.

MSF said it was “extremely concerned” for its patients and attributed the deterioration of mental health to the Australian government’s indefinite offshore detention policy. It called for the immediate resettlement of refugees and asylum seekers.

“I cannot stress enough that as an international medical humanitarian organisation, MSF strongly condemns the sudden decision of the government of Nauru to abruptly end MSF’s provision of desperately needed mental health care,” MSF said.

“Make no mistake that MSF is extremely concerned for the ongoing mental health of all our patients remaining on the island, including asylum seekers and refugees who remain in a complete state of hopelessness and despair.”

MSF have reported that the mental health conditions of those remaining on the island is “absolutely devastating” and added that the patients it was forced to leave are “trapped in a vicious downward spiral of despair.”

Of the patients the organisation treated, at least 78 committed suicide, had suicidal thoughts and conflicted self-harm. Many children were reported to be suffering from extreme cases of mental health, dubbed ‘Traumatic Withdrawal Symptom’ by staff.

MSF was given just 24 hours to evacuate the island, with staff reporting it was not a sufficient amount of time to ensure the ongoing care of their patients. The Executive Director of MSF Australia, Paul McPhun, added that there was an attempt to have senior staff negotiate with the Nauruan government, but received no response.

The staff have expressed concern for the patients left to the care of the International Health and Medical Services, contracted by the Australian government. Particularly, the staff are worried patients will have a hard time trusting their “captors” to feel safe.

American psychologist working with MSF, Christine Rufener, said it was no longer a “therapeutic environment” for the patients to visit and predicted there would be further deterioration of mental health without the trusted service.

“We were removed by the Nauruan government with the claim that they can currently meet the mental health needs on the island. The Nauruan hospital has no psychologists or therapists on staff,” Rufener said.

“The only solution for these people to psychologically recover from years of exposure to continuous traumatisation due to indefinite detention is their immediate evacuation to a stable and safe environment where they can access quality mental health treatments and enjoy the same basic treatments all humans deserve.”

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