Manus Island police chief calls for state action over suicidal refugees

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Manus Island detainees ... seven men have died on the island, some from suicide, during six years of detention without trial for seeking asylum in Australia. Image: Green-Left

By RNZ Pacific

As the number of refugees attempting suicide continues to rise on Manus Island, the local police commander has called for the government to intervene.

For years, the Manus Provincial Police Commander David Yapu has dealt with the impact of hundreds of young, male refugees foisted on his community by Australia.

Conflict and crime are just some of the problems Yapu has faced, but its only now with refugee suicide attempts reaching epidemic proportions that the police commander has turned to policy makers in Port Moresby.

READ MORE: Canberra cannot ignore Manus Island suicide attempt crisis, warns advocate

“There must be some intervention from the government because the trend of attempted suicide is growing,” Yapu said.

“Anything drastic can happen, meaning that they can lose their life. This is something that I don’t want to see.”


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Refugees have reported about 40 suicide attempts or incidents of self harm since the Australian election on May 18, a statistic borne out by Yapu’s plea in which he described two attempted hangings and a failed self immolation last week, while admitting the situation was beyond his control.

In desperation he has tasked a division of PNG’s notorious Mobile Squad squad to police the three refugee compounds on the island.

“Our presence there is very important so that that will deter any situation that arises in those camps.”

Seven deaths so far
Seven men have died on Manus, some from suicide, during six years of detention without trial for seeking asylum in Australia.

The recent suicide attempts have so far been foiled by other refugees and security staff but with a new cabinet soon to be unveiled in Port Moresby, the Catholic Dean of Manus province said it was time for the government to step in.

Father Clement Taulam said the church would continue to petition politicians to take a fresh look at the situation on Manus.

“It’s important for us to look at the plight of these refugees and try to present it to the new government that we have now,” Taulam said.

“We can only hope that they can do something for them, because the people of Manus when we look at them, we feel sorry for them.”

Inadequate healthcare
Advocate Ian Rintoul of Refugee Action Coalition (RAC) said the PNG government should also take note of what he called inadequate refugee healthcare being provided by Pacific International Hospital (PIH) and the subsequent pressure put on Lorengau General Hospital.

“The PIH clinic is effectively just a GP clinic, it’s got no real facilities. What’s happening in terms of the attempted suicides and the self harm, it’s just not equipped and they’ve been sending people to the Lorengau hospital but it’s not equipped either,” Rintoul said.

“The Lorengau hospital has sent everybody back to their compounds because it just can’t cope. It needed beds for local people. It’s got no psychologist whatsoever.”

Father Taulam agreed the hospital was under pressure and that PIH was failing the refugees.

“When these men go up to the hospital, there’s no one looking after them at the hospital. Sometimes we have another refugee looking after another in the hospital, and you know with two of them with those kind of difficulties that they’re going through, how would they look after themselves?

“So I don’t think the hospital has that medication for them. PIH was engaged, but again, it doesn’t seem to work out well. I think people are not really fulfilling their responsibilities to look after these people.”

PIH did not respond to questions regarding its ability to cope with the attempted suicides.

Refugees refusing food
But the refugee and celebrated author Behrouz Boochani said depressed refugees refusing food were also being failed by the Australian contracted health provider.

“In fact they are doing nothing, and the sick refugees and the people who attempt suicide or self harm rely on the local hospital.

“So that’s why I think the local people and the authorities are very angry at Australian government and PIH company, because they spend so much money for this company, but they are doing nothing.”

Boochani said the new PNG government should prioritise ending the “humanitarian crisis” on Manus Island over the money Australia is paying to prolong it.

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:

Tonga:
Lifeline 23000 or 25144

Fiji:
Lifeline +679 667 0565

Papua New Guinea:
Lifeline Port Moresby – 675 326 0011 –

Samoa:
Lifeline 800-5433

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 or text HELP to 4357

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 talk@youthline.co.nz

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

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

Where to get help:

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 talk@youthline.co.nz

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

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

  • This article is published under the Pacific Media Centre’s content partnership with Radio New Zealand.
  • More refugee stories
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