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Refugee suicide attempts 'epidemic' on Manus Island

Content warning - some people might find some of the details in this story distressing

Suicide attempts among refugees detained on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island by Australia have reached epidemic proportions, an advocate

many detainees,
crouching with their arms crossed in the air

Protest in Mike compound, Manus Island detention centre, 22-8-17 Photo: Supplied

About 500 men remain in detention on the island, where they've been held for six years without trial.

Back on Manus last week for the first time since September, the advocate Ian Rintoul said the mental health crisis among refugees was becoming more acute.

"The epidemic of suicide attempts among refugees on Manus is profoundly concerning," he said.

"Refugees who are owed protection by Australia have been left without hope. Offshore detention is costing them their mental health and their lives."

Seven refugees have died of the island, three of suspected suicide.

In January after visiting Manus, a senior Catholic clergyman said self harm and suicide attempts among the men were "a daily occurrence".

A description of Mr Rintoul's recent trip seems to concur with that statement.

Last week, he visited the island's police station to see a refugee who had tried to hang himself.

Finding the man unresponsive, the advocate described it as "barbaric" that a refugee with "an acute mental health issue" was thrown in a police cell.

Also during his stay, Mr Rintoul visited Lorengau hospital to see a 23-year-old Somali refugee who had overdosed on 1 May.

The man was later returned without supervision to one of three detention centres on the island, he said.

Another refugee took an overdose on 4 May. The suicide attempt by the 32-year-old from Sudan was followed by one from a 25 year-old Iraqi refugee the following day.

The man was prevented from setting himself alight after dousing himself with petrol, but he remains suicidal and socially withdrawn, Mr Rintoul said.

"There is an urgent need to evacuate Manus Island and Nauru, and bring all refugees and asylum seekers to Australia."

Where to get help

These are services across the Pacific for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

In Tonga


23000 or


In Fiji


667 0565

In Papua New Guinea

Lifeline Port Moresby

326 0011

In Samoa:

Samoa Lifeline


In New Zealand:

Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7)

Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)

Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email

What's Up: online chat (7pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 children's helpline (1pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-10pm weekends)

Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)

Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254

Healthline: 0800 611 116

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

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