1 Dec 2012

Detainees tried to stop help for suicidal refugee

6:17 pm on 1 December 2012

A senior member of the Nauruan government says detainees at the Nauru detention centre tried to stop health workers from helping a man who was attempting suicide.

Matthew Batsua, who co-chairs the committee set up to oversee the centre, has told the ABC there is a small group of detainees who are causing trouble and are inciting others to join in.

The desperation of one detainee in the centre led him to try to hang himself inside the site's laundry on Thursday night.

Mr Batsua says when the centre's health workers tried to help him, the group of protesters interfered.

"When they were trying offer the help that he obviously required, they were being obstructed by others who were keen to see a negative outcome," he said.

"To me and to the Nauru government, this is sadly behaviour that concerns us seriously.

"If they have their issues they should pursue those issues individually, but they should not be compromising others as well."

The Nauru government has begun interviewing asylum seekers to process their refugee claims.

Mr Batsua says some are pressuring others not to co-operate, in the hope that their claims will instead be processed by Australia.

But he says the island is well-equipped to cope and local authorities have not been surprised by the tactic.

"We went into this with our eyes wide open," he said.

"We did expect that there'll be a strong resistance to being processed in Nauru."

Extreme pressure

Professor Louise Newman from Monash University, who has headed a government advisory panel on the mental health of asylum seekers for four years, says the people inside the centre are under extreme pressure.

"I've heard reports from detainees and from staff that there have been some elements of coercion where some individuals who are very determined to engage in protest and hunger striking have encouraged others to be involved," she said.

"Sadly, [that's] very typical in those sorts of very emotionally charged environments where people are at high levels of tension and high levels of distress.

"What we probably have is a minority group who are extremely determined to continue protesting because really they see themselves as having very little other option or ways of influencing the situation they find themselves in."

On Friday an Kurdish man Omid Sorouseh was flown to an undisclosed Australian hospital for medical treatment that is not possible in Nauru after a hunger strike lasting 50 days.