Suicide attempts among refugees on Manus Island have become “a daily occurrence”, according to a Catholic leader in Papua New Guinea.
The general secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, Giorgio Licini, visited Manus Island last week where he “witnessed three suicide attempts in two days”.
In a statement released on Monday, Mr Licini said the situation was becoming untenable and that the refugees must be evacuated for urgent medical treatment.
“Self-harming and overdosing with tablets has now become a daily occurrence in Manus and Port Moresby,” he said in the statement.
After the visit, Mr Licini met with PNG’s Immigration Minister, Petrus Thomas, and presented him with a letter warning of the “devastating effects of prolonged detention”.
“I am now humbly asking you to give a very close deadline to the authorities in Canberra for the removal of all refugees from our country on the basis of strongly compelling medical and humanitarian reasons,” he wrote.
Mr Licini said the minister “pledged further consultation with the government of Australia for a definitive solution and ending of the offshore processing exercise”.
But Minister Thomas made clear that “a significant change of the situation mostly depends on the government of Australia”.
In the statement, Mr Licini warned “there is no much time left for meetings and discussions”.
He told RNZ Pacific, “if nothing is done immediately we are going to have, in the next few weeks, people not only getting sick … we are going to have people die”.
“There is one and only one solution … for the prime minister of Papua New Guinea to tell the prime minister of Australia, either incoming or ongoing, that enough is enough.”
The regional processing centre on Manus Island’s Lombrum Naval Base closed in 2017 but there are about 600 refugees living in camps in the main town of Lorengau.
A recent report by Amnesty International claimed that since August 2018, three men have killed themselves while many others have attempted suicide.
The offshore policy is designed to deter people embarking on treacherous sea journeys, but the United Nations and other rights groups have criticised the camps’ conditions and the long detention periods.
Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 and Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 (up to age 25). More information about mental health is available at Beyond Blue.