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Suicide attempts surge in Australia’s refugee camps after elections

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A refugee advocate protests against asylum-seeker camps in Sydney. The issue has long been a political football in the country. AFP

Suicide attempts surge in Australia’s refugee camps after elections

At least four refugees in Australia’s offshore Pacific camps have attempted suicide since the conservative government’s shock re-election on Saturday, according to refugees, advocates and police.

Around 800 would-be refugees who tried to reach Australia have been sent to live in severe conditions on the remote islands of Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus under a hardline policy from Canberra.

Many had prayed for a more lenient policy from Labor, who had been strongly tipped to win.

But an unexpected victory by Scott Morrison’s centre-right coalition dashed hopes and set off a wave of self-harm including several hospitalisations.

Prominent Kurdish author and asylum-seeker Behrouz Boochani tweeted from Manus: “The situation in Manus is out of control, today two more people attempted suicide.”

Manus Provincial Police Commander David Yapu said he was aware of at least 10 suicide attempts including four over the weekend.

“It’s an issue we are faced with right now,” he said.

“Over the weekend we had an attempted arson of their rooms, and right now we have some that are refusing to eat.”

Australia’s Department of Home Affairs did not respond to a request for comment.

The opposition Labor party had said they would be open to a New Zealand offer to resettle refugees on Manus and Nauru.

The UN and human rights organisations have roundly condemned the conservative government’s policy.

“We have run out of vocabulary to describe the harm wrought,” the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Canberra said in December.

Activists said the election was a breaking point.

“It has been building for six years, but the weekend’s election result has precipitated a crisis that the government cannot afford to ignore,” said Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition.

Rintoul said men fleeing violence or persecution in Sudan, Iraq and Iran had attempted to hang or set fire to themselves.

“Offshore detention is slowly strangling the life out of its victims,” he added.

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