The father of a 12-year-old refugee girl who attempted to set herself on fire on Nauru says she is not receiving medical treatment and is refusing to eat and drink.
“Her desire to die is very high,” her father said from Nauru through an interpreter. The girl’s father is also trying to care for her 13-year-old brother, and their mother, both of whom are seriously mentally ill.
“Currently R is losing a lot of weight, she is not speaking, and refusing all food and water. She does not sleep at night,” her father said.
“R has stopped going to the toilet by herself … when she does sleep she wakes up with nightmares, screaming and sweating.”
Doctors warned nearly two weeks ago that the 12-year-old girl, R, needed to be moved urgently off Nauru, but those clinical recommendations have been overruled by the Australian Border Force, and she remains on the island.
“I strongly suspect that she will continue to deteriorate until the level of risk of death is unbearable, or until she proceeds to actually kill herself,” an IHMS psychiatrist reported to the ABF four days before her self-immolation attempt. “I do not think it is reasonable to simply wait until that point is reached.”
Island sources say there have been no efforts made to repatriate R and her family to Australia, despite a steady stream of children being moved off the island for critical health issues.
It is not sustainable for her to be managed in this way.
About 110 refugee and asylum seeker children remain on Nauru after five years of offshore processing. Half of them have been given overseas medical referrals – doctors’ clinical recommendations to move them off the island to hospital care – but these have not been acted upon.
Guardian Australia has chosen not to name R or her family members, or their country of origin. Their case is expected to come before the federal court in Australia within days.
The family, held on Nauru for five years, has been formally recognised as refugees and is legally owed protection by Australia. But all family members were rejected for resettlement by the United States, after progressing through preliminary interviews and health checks.
R’s father has told authorities on the island he cannot even leave their accommodation in Ewa, in Nauru’s north-west, to get food for the family, for fear someone in his family will try to kill themselves in his absence.
“Her decline began a few months ago following a negative ‘hand-down’ for the USA,” R’s father said.
R was taken to Nauru hospital following her self-immolation attempt, where she was held for a day-and-a-half, but was told by doctors there there was nothing that could be done for her and discharged home.
R’s parents currently watch her 24 hours a day and say they are exhausted.
“We have received no help from IHMS despite constant requests for help and requests to have R admitted to the supported accommodation area inside the regional processing centre. IHMS staff visited and left in tears and have not returned,” her father said.
On August 18 – four days before her attempted self-immolation – R was seen by an IHMS psychiatrist, who diagnosed her with a major depressive disorder. His report says she was drably dressed and poorly groomed, moved slowly and struggled to make eye contact. She was tearful, the report says.
“R realises that she does not have any options and that with rejection from the USA they have nowhere to go. She is aware that she reacted negatively to this – as expected – but now states she no longer cares about that or anything else and cannot see herself getting better or even wanting to be.
“She is negative about herself, she is hopeless about the future and has concluded that if she had the energy to do so she would plan to kill herself. She has made some threats that she will harm herself in various ways … and [has a] specific plan.”
The doctor said while her father was monitoring her safety closely, “it is not sustainable for her to be managed in this way”.
The Australian department of home affairs – which has ultimate authority over the offshore processing regime on Nauru and PNG’s Manus Island – has consistently declined to comment on individual cases.
The Nauru government – preparing to host leaders from across the region at the Pacific Islands Forum beginning this weekend – has rejected the Australian courts’ findings that children are unsafe in the country.
“Children of refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru have access to education, health services, welfare, good accommodation and a range of social services provided by the Nauru and Australian governments. Nauruan children grow up happy and healthy on our island. Activists [are] playing politics and distorting facts,” the government said in a statement.
“To suggest any child is in danger just because they live in our country is offensive.”