Twelve-Year-Old Nauru Refugee Attempts To Set Herself On Fire


Nauru has received renewed attention within the past month due to reports of children harming themselves in protest. Among those, is a 12-year-old refugee who has attempted to set herself on fire on Wednesday 22nd August. This infliction of self-harm was intervened by her family and friends. The girl was left with physical injuries and was taken to Nauru’s hospital to receive medical treatment. In lieu of recent events, health experts, politicians and advocacy groups have continued to confront the Australian government of the ‘contagion’ surrounding mental health concerns within Nauru.

According to the Guardian, the girl had attempted repeated suicide efforts within past weeks, all of which were witnessed by other children within the detention centre. A psychiatrist stationed on the island reportedly recommended that the girl receive further treatment within Australia, however, this has not occurred. In fact, these incidents are common and have been imitated from watching adults who have attempted self-harm in similar forms. Back in 2017, the Refugee Coordinator at Amnesty International, Graham Thom, stated that “enough is enough, the truth is out in plain sight, there have been multiple human tragedies… and report after report has highlighted the abuse, the self-harm, the violence that is a daily reality for people trapped in offshore detention.” However, since 2017, conditions have only persisted.

These events of self-harm and attempted suicide show the vulnerability and defencelessness of the refugees whose well-being is left in the hands of the government. They show the failure of the Australian government to successfully process asylum seekers quickly and efficiently. The government also seems to ignore any individuals or groups speaking out about these horrific events. It is important to keep in mind that these people are in most cases fleeing unstable countries to find sanctuary within Australia. However, the scheme for ‘offshore processing’ isn’t seeing any positive results for detainees. In fact, this is only causing negative controversy for Australia’s reputation, especially due to the secrecy created around Nauru. To achieve international security and peace, it is important for Australia to treat refugees with compassion and respect.

The offshore processing of asylum seekers in Nauru stems back to the ‘Pacific Solution’ which was formed in 2001 by the then Prime Minister John Howard. This plan ensured those seeking asylum by boat were externally detained. This arrangement caused havoc immediately by those stationed within the island and the scheme did not deter refugees from coming by boat. The effects that detention has had on the mental health of the inmates is alarming. Since 2001 these conditions have only continued to increase in severity. In fact, on Tuesday 21st August a 12-year-old Iranian detainee was taken to Australia for medical care. The boy was refusing food and care for up to three weeks and due to this was bedridden and weighed only 36 kg. This has caused a fear of resignation syndrome within the island, which is a psychiatric condition which causes all forms of mental and physical withdrawal.

Overall the Australian government has continued to avoid discussing the treatment of asylum seekers as well as finding a solution to this ongoing humanitarian issue. By keeping the asylum seekers offshore with no guarantee of sanctuary, these refugees are left hopeless within appalling conditions. Events like the suicide attempt of the 12-year-old girl should shock the government into a sense of urgency and change. However, unfortunately, these events have occurred for years. It is important that Australians show compassion and stand with these asylum seekers so that long overdue change can ensue.

Aisha Parker