Pacific / Papua New Guinea

Manus Island suicide attempts spike after Australian election

12:03 pm on 12 June 2019

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

A spate of suicide attempts among refugees detained on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island has followed the Liberal party's shock victory in the Australian election.

It defeated the Labor party, which had promised to expedite the resettlement of about 900 refugees Australia has detained for six years on Manus and Nauru without trial.

Less than 72 hours after polls closed, Manus Island refugee and journalist Behrouz Boochani said nine refugees had tried to take their own lives or had committed self harm.

"I have never seen Manus like this," he said. "The problem is that no one is able to help others because everyone has lost their hope."

One man had tried to hang himself, according to Sri Lankan refugee Shaminda Kanapathi, who said many of the 500 men on the island were giving up.

"We're really worried about our future and we don't know how much longer we'll have to wait before we resettle in a third country," Mr Kanapathi said.

Sudanese refugee and Martin Ennals Award winner Abdul Aziz Muhamat said he was struggling to give hope to the men.

"Based on my experience providing mental support and trying to keep them positive I feel speechless because I was giving them hope using the election," Mr Muhamat said.

"The only thing that will give hope to the refugees on Manus and Nauru is, number one: permanent resettlement elsewhere, not necessarily in Australia."

Mr Boochani agreed the refugees were not calling to be taken to Australia, a destination ruled out by the government since 2013.

Labor had also promised to revisit New Zealand's offer to take 150 of the refugees each year, a solution spurned by the government for the "back-door" it would create to Australia.

But Labor should continue to press for the New Zealand option in opposition, Mr Boochani said.

"If they want to pass a law in the Australian parliament that these people if they go to New Zealand never come to Australia, we are happy with that," he said.

Speeding up resettlement in the United States, which has agreed to take up to 1250 of the refugees, could also instil hope, Mr Muhamat suggested. But only 515 have been taken by the US since the agreement was announced in November 2016.

Mr Muhamat also thought evacuating sick men for medical treatment in Australia might lift the refugees' spirits, however, the newly elected government has committed to overturning the so called "medevac law" which expedites medical transfers.

"I am sure if they continue to keep people here, more people will die," Mr Boochani said. Seven people have died on Manus and 12 in offshore detention since 2013.

"The government understands this because they are running this prison camp. They are aware how people are suffering, better than anyone. It is sadistic. They know but they do nothing."

Most Australians, on the other hand, have no idea the refugees are suffering or even know they exist, Mr Muhamat said.

"We are represented in only 20 percent of the news," he said. "The other 80 percent of the news is being presented by the government" which has vilified the refugees as "criminals, terrorists, pedophiles, murderers and rapists".

"The mainstream media in Australia doesn't care about us," Mr Boochani said. "My message to the right wing's media is that, you won the election so why are you silent in front of this tragedy?"

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 Lifeline 23000 or 25144

In Fiji Lifeline 667 0565

In Papua New Guinea Lifeline Port Moresby 326 0011

In Samoa Lifeline 800-5433

In New Zealand:

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

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