Australia won’t mediate as doctors leave Nauru

A UN report in 2016 called for the media to have greater access to the processing centres.

A UN report in 2016 called for the media to have greater access to the processing centres. Photo: Supplied

The federal government won’t intervene to help Medecins Sans Frontieres continue providing mental health treatment for asylum seekers on Nauru.

MSF (Doctors Without Borders) was given 24 hours to leave Nauru on Friday, after being told by the Nauruan government its free psychological and psychiatric services were no longer required.

The organisation has provided mental health services to both Nauruans and refugees since November 2017.

“The relationship between Medecins Sans Frontieres and the Nauruan government is a matter for them,” Health Minister Greg Hunt told ABC radio on Monday.

“For us, we have been working with International Health and Medical Services, we will continue to focus on them.”

The abrupt dismissal follows a report by two prominent Australian refugee organisations saying most refugee children on Nauru are experiencing life-threatening mental health problems, including not eating or drinking and suicidal symptoms.

When asked about the mental health of refugee children on Nauru, Mr Hunt said the government’s tough border policy was vital to stopping deaths at sea and more boat arrivals would lead to a “massive spike” in people placed in detention.

The health minister insists Australia is always working to improve services on Nauru.

“We are always, always, working with both the Australian authorities and the Nauruan government to provide additional and increased services.”

Advocacy group Refugee Action Coalition and MSF fear the mental health of asylum seekers will worsen with the organisation’s removal.

“We are extremely concerned that the health of our patients may be affected by this decision and urge the authorities to grant us permission to continue our lifesaving work,” MSF said in a statement.

“At this stage MSF wishes to reiterate our strong commitment to providing quality mental health care to all those in need on the island.”

MSF uses more than 30,000 doctors, nurses and other mostly volunteer personnel to provide medical aid in over 70 countries.

The federal government on Sunday announced an inquiry into Australia’s mental health system, to look at the impact of mental illness on the economy and scrutinise the $9 billion spent a year by federal, state and territory governments.

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