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Australia election triggers refugee suicide attempts

At least four refugees in Australia’s offshore Pacific camps have attempted suicide since the conservative government’s shock re-election Saturday, according to refugees, advocates and police.

Around 800 would-be refugees who tried reach Australia have been sent to live in severe conditions on the remote islands of Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus under a hardline policy from Canberra.

Many had prayed for a more lenient policy from Labor, who had been strongly tipped to win.

But an unexpected victory by Scott Morrison’s centre-right coalition has dashed hopes and set off a wave of self-harm including several hospitalisations.

“I know that many people in Australia are in shock right now and sad and upset because of the election,” prominent Kurdish author and asylum-seeker Behrouz Boochani told AFP.

“Imagine that you can compare this with people in Manus — our lives depended on the election,” he said from the island.

Boochani said nine people had attempted suicide since the national vote with despair spreading through the community.

“The situation is out of control,” he said. “I have not seen Manus like this before.”

Fellow Manus asylum-seeker Abdul Aziz Muhamat said there was inadequate medical support on the island for those self-harming amid a “scary” increase in suicide attempts.

“Many ppl are shocked & upset about the election result,” the Sudanese refugee tweeted.

“The question is what are we going to do to help the forgotten ppl… their lives (are) in danger.”

Manus Provincial Police Commander David Yapu told AFP that he was aware of at least ten suicide attempts including four over the weekend.

“It’s an issue we are faced with right now,” he said.

“Over the weekend we had an attempted arson of their rooms, and right now we have some that are refusing to eat.”

Australia’s Department of Home Affairs did not respond to a request for comment.

The opposition Labor party had said they would be open to a New Zealand offer to resettle refugees on Manus and Nauru.

The United Nations and human rights organisations have roundly condemned the conservative government’s policy.

“We have run out of vocabulary to describe the harm wrought,” the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Canberra said in December.

Over 2 000 asylum-seekers have arrived at Manus and Nauru since the offshore centres were reopened in 2012.

They have arrived from all over the world, many fleeing war or persecution from places like Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Sudan.

Activists said the election was a breaking point.

“It has been building for six years, but the weekend’s election result has precipitated a crisis that the government cannot afford to ignore,” said Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition.

Rintoul said men fleeing violence or persecution in Sudan, Iraq and Iran had attempted to hang or set fire to themselves.

“Offshore detention is slowly strangling the life out of its victims,” he added.

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Daniel De Carteret
Daniel De Carteret
Journalist covering Australia and the South Pacific for Agence France-Presse. Formerly in SE Asia.

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