A shock Australian election result has sparked a wave of suicide attempts among refugees held in the Manus Island detention center off Papua New Guinea, activists say.
Detainee and activist Behrouz Boochani told CNN at least nine people have attempted suicide since the election results were confirmed on Saturday, with three now in hospital.
Almost 1000 refugees are currently being held in offshore centres in Papua New Guinea and the island of Nauru at the behest of Australia, the country in which they had been attempting to seek asylum. Human rights monitors such as Amnesty International have reported “hellish” conditions, abuses and neglect.
An unexpected election win for the incumbent Liberal National coalition dashed refugees’ hopes that a new Labor government would change their circumstances.
Seven cases had occurred on Manus Island and two in Port Moresby on the mainland, but so far no one has died, said Boochani.
Chief Inspector David Yapu, Manus Island Provincial Police Commander, reported different figures, telling CNN that two refugees in Manus attempted to take their own lives over the weekend, one from Iran and one from Iraq.
When asked about the discrepancy between official numbers and his own report, Boochani said that that “police aren’t here to know about the cases.”
The men involved in the attempts reported by police are now being evaluated by psychiatric professionals, the commander said. He added that their possible clinical depression would be taken into account in pressing charges.
Attempting suicide is a crime in Papua New Guinea, and the detention centers are managed by PNG and Nauru on behalf of Australia.
Port Moresby Police Chief Superintendent Dominic Kakas declined to comment.
More than 4,000 people have been sent into offshore detention in Nauru and Papua New Guinea since 2012, when Australia agreed on the processing arrangements to stop refugees from settling there, according to the Refugee Council of Australia (RCA). The RCA says that as of March this year, just under 1000 remained in the centers: 359 in Nauru and 547 in Papua New Guinea.
Ahead of Australia’s election, the opposition Labor party said it would agree to a deal with New Zealand to resettle 150 refugees held on the island of Nauru if it formed the next government, as polls had indicated.
This had raised hopes among refugees on Nauru and Manaus that their lives would change in the event of a Labor victory.
“We people on Manus and Nauru were really hopeful that if Labor wins the election they will accept the New Zealand offer and set us free finally,” said Boochani.
However the Liberal National coalition led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison won a shock victory, setting the party up for a third term in government against all expectations.
Morrison’s government is known for a hardline immigration policy, which includes attempting to block the so-called Medivac bill, which allows refugees from Nauru and Manus into Australia for medical treatment.
While the government ultimately suffered a defeat in parliament as the legislation was passed, lawmakers are now pushing to repeal the Medivac Bill, reports CNN affiliate SBS News.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told reporters Tuesday repealing the bill is a priority for the coalition, although there is a chance of a veto from the Senate.
Across the ocean in the detention centers, political developments have been met with despair.
“That was a very disappointing moment for us, our lives depended on it,” said Boochani of the election result, referring to hopes of resettlement in New Zealand.
“Right now people think that there is no other way to get off of these islands and that we will be soon forgotten forever.”
However Yapu, the Manus police commander, said that the two confirmed suicide attempts on the island may not be linked to Australian politics.
“We can’t jump to the conclusion that it is related to the election as long term depression is a factor,” said Yapu.
Ian Rintoul from Refugee Action Coalition, an Australian rights group, told CNN that he had heard reports of seven attempted suicides on Manus since Saturday.
“There is clearly a spate of attempted suicides since Saturday’s vote in Australia,” said Rintoul.
“They were already increasing in the run up to the election but it is clear that the election result has increased the rate.”
Yapu said that “9 or 10” attempted suicides on Manus have been referred to police since November 2018.
The Australian government has not responded publicly to the suicide attempts.