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Manus men face 'mental health crisis'


Refugees and asylum seekers marooned on Manus Island are at grave risk of an impending mental health crisis, a coalition of humanitarian agencies is warning Australia’s political leaders.

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Agencies who have just returned from a week in Papua New Guinea have delivered a bleak assessment about the “most insidious and deep impact” indefinite detention is having on around 600 men.

“We are robbing them of their freedom, denying them all hope and condemning them to terrible suffering,” World Vision chief advocate Tim Costello told reporters in Canberra today.

Costello described meeting men on Manus Island with fear and anxiety written across their faces and whose bodies were frozen in fear.

“I know they’re coping with torture and terror from where they have fled, and retraumatised from being held here, and terrible fear about random violence that can break out,” he said.

The last of around 300 men refused to leave the now-closed detention facility were forcibly removed on Friday, ending a tense three-week stand-off.

They joined hundreds of others already moved to alternative accommodation sites.

Costello said the Australian government had absolved itself of its responsibility, with one of the facilities still three to four weeks away from being completed.

But more pressing than the unprepared and inadequate housing was the mental health and wellbeing of the men being held there.

“The first thing we’re calling for is immediate access and assessment by doctors to these refugees and those who have been rejected to assess their mental health,” Costello said.

“Anyone assessed with significant mental health issues – and we believe there’s many in this category – need to be medevaced to Australia to be given the proper mental health protections.”

Costello said it was shameful Medecins Sans Frontieres officers were denied access to asylum seekers.

The agencies – including Oxfam Australia and the Australian Council for International Development – said it remained Australia’s responsibility to find third country resettlement options for the men on Manus Island.


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