Manus refugee suicide as healthcare reduced

6:21 am on 25 May 2018

A refugee suicide on Manus Island this week has highlighted claims that healthcare services have been cut in Australian offshore detention.

An Amnesty International report, which the Australian government disputes, said torture and trauma counselling was no longer available for about 750 men exiled to Papua New Guinea.

Salim Kyawning

Salim Kyawning Photo: Behrouz Boochani

Rohingya refugee Salim Kyawning had been detained on Manus Island for five years when he leapt off a moving bus to his death on Tuesday.

Kurdish journalist and refugee Behrouz Boochani said Mr Kyawning was an epileptic who often collapsed and had a history of mental illness but was neglected by healthcare providers.

"Salim was the most vulnerable, sick refugee on Manus. Many human rights organisations in Australia and also Doctors for Refugees are aware of his case and there are enough documents and witnesses that he was sick and he needed urgent medical treatment," Mr Boochani said.

"But unfortunately the Australian government, they didn't care about him and they put him in a situation that he unfortunately decided to kill himself."

Natasha Blucher from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre told reporters Mr Kyawning's poor health was obvious when she met him on Manus last year.

"He was extremely vulnerable and from one of the most persecuted minorities on this earth," she said.

"A proven refugee he came to Australia seeking safety... instead our government chose cruelty and locked him up on a remote island in awful conditions, with insufficient health and mental health care."

Mr Kwayning's death came just days after the release of the Amnesty International's report, Health Care Cuts.

"What we're seeing is a very drastic wind back over the last six months in the level of healthcare that the Australian government is willing to provide for refugees and asylum seekers in its care," Amnesty International researcher Kate Schuetze said.

Australia's Department of Home Affairs said its comment was not sought for the report which included previously refuted claims.

Paul Stevenson

Paul Stevenson Photo: supplied

But consultant psychologist Paul Stevenson said adequate torture and trauma counselling for refugees might never have existed on Manus.

"If anything, any kind of behavioural intervention was punitive. Nobody was adequately given a psychological intervention. There was one psychologist but with the communication difficulties and I think a desire to not try to intervene to make their lives any better, people were just not treated," he said.

"They arrived with having fled persecution with substantial PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) but then they suffered more in the institutionalised lifestyle."

Mr Stevenson counselled workers in Australian offshore detention in 2015 and 2016.

"Every day there was an excessive amount of self harm and suicidality. I estimated about 400 percent what you'd expect on mainland (Australia)." he said.

"I often regarded the place as being a place where 1200 people were trying to kill themselves every day and 600 staff were trying to stop them."

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said intensive support for refugees and asylum-seekers remained desperately needed in both Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

UNHCR agreed services had been reduced on Manus and said it would send medical experts on another mission there.

It said it was profoundly saddened by the death of Salim Kyawning, the 7th refugee to die on Manus Island.

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs