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More than 27 suicide attempts in two weeks - Manus refugee

Benjamin Robinson-Drawbridge, RNZ Pacific Journalist

There have been more than 27 suicide attempts in the last two weeks by refugees detained on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island, a refugee says.

banners: painting
of an impaled man; SOS; how will you celebrate christmas
when you imprisoned us for six years for no reason

A refugee protest at the East Lorengau Transit Centre. Photo: Shamindan Kanapadhi

Listen to more on Dateline Pacific duration 3:46

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Abdul Aziz Muhamat has called for action to resolve the mental health crisis from the Australian parliament, which is considering a bill to ease the transfer of sick refugees from Manus and Nauru to Australia.

Mr Muhamat said the crisis among about 600 men in exile on Manus was spiralling out of control.

"As someone who has been on Manus Island for five years I have never seen people in that stage. Within two weeks we had more than 27 who have attempted to kill themselves. This is absolutely disgraceful and it's getting out of our control." he said.

"The reason why people are attempting to kill themselves is because people are hopeless, people are tired. Six years of incarceration, six years of languishing behind bars, six years of no process and six years of not knowing even where to go and what to do. Not knowing even what your future looks like.

Abdul Aziz Muhamat. Photo: Michael Green

"This disaster needs an intervention from the government before it's too late."

The crisis is snowballing, affecting him and others who previously cared for the sick, Mr Muhamat said.

"As someone who is witnessing this sort of atrocity and tragedy its absolutely affecting me mentally and sometimes even I get traumatised," he said.

"And it's not only me but it's affecting so many other men because the influence of those people, people that we know are very strong, brave and they have been helping their friends and most recently those people, they just broke down.

"You get to the stage that you feel so scared that sooner or later you are going to be in their shoes."

After two suicide attempts and a serious act of self harm on Monday, the refugee advocate Ian Rintoul said it was clear the mental health crisis on Manus was escalating.

"I think it's what we have seen in Australian detention centres that the longer the detention goes on the longer the uncertainty, the worse and worse and more difficult and desperate the mental health cases become," Mr Rintoul said.

"It is extremely distressing to hear the reports, both of the mental distress which some of the individuals are in but you have people, who are amateurs in that respect, very young men who have difficult circumstances themselves, trying to cope with people who are no longer able to cope."

A parallel health crisis among refugees detained on Nauru has federal politicians in Canberra considering a private members bill that would enable doctors to order medical evacuations from offshore detention.

a man labelled
'manus men' impaled on a stake labelled with years from 2013
to 2019 followed by a question mark

A painting by Manus Island refugee Thanus Selvarasa.
Photo: Shamindan Kanapadhi

The opposition Labor party's deputy leader, Tanya Plibersek, told the ABC her party could support it, if the ultimate decision on evacuations rested with the minister.

"We would very much like to see the outcome of this bill. We think that people have been on Manus Island and Nauru for far too long. We've seen so much evidence this week and over many months of the mental anguish and physical ill health that so many asylum seekers and refugees are experiencing so we want to see the outcome," she said.

"But we do think at the end of the day decisions about the Australian Migration Act have to rest with the minister. We're a parliamentary democracy so we're negotiating in good faith and we'd like to see the outcome where we can support the bill."

To pass the lower house, the bill is expected to need the support of Labor, the cross bench and at least one MP from the coalition government prepared to cross the floor.

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