Patient testimony from Nauru: "People are Hopeless"

25 Mar 2019

Ashan* is a Sri Lankan refugee who was held on Nauru for four years and six months. His brother was treated by the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) mental health team, who provided care on the island for 11 months before being asked to leave by the Nauruan government in October 2018.  


Ashan*, a refugee, hopes for a place of safety for refugees and asylum seekers left on Nauru. © MSF

“We fled Sri Lanka because of the war. The army was looking for my dad, so he left first. My mother, my siblings and I left later. We didn’t expect to be sent to Nauru.

On Nauru, we spent four years living in a tent. We didn’t feel safe there: there were bad accidents that happened. When refugees would finish their work and return to the camp at night, sometimes locals would kick them and take their money.

My younger brother’s mental health was very bad when we were on Nauru. He made a suicide attempt four or five times. . . washing powder, cutting his hand. One time he was talking to a counsellor in the hospital and my brother got angry – he used a cable tie on his own neck.

“We fled Sri Lanka for in search of a place where we could live in safety, but on Nauru [my brother] was doing worse than in our home country.”

My parents worried about my brother. Before we were taken to Nauru, he was good at studying. We fled Sri Lanka in search of a place where we could live in safety, but on Nauru he was doing worse than in our home country.

Now, in Australia, my brother is slowly recovering. He is at a good school and he’s being seen by a counsellor. He’s improving, but still sometimes he gets angry and scared.

It was really tough for me on Nauru. But I am older than my brother, and I had already finished some school [in Sri Lanka], so I could cope better. It was very hard to find a job on Nauru as a refugee. Even if you are very qualified, they are always calling you, “refugee, refugee”.


Inside the refugee settlements on Nauru, September 2017. © MSF

It’s very hard to get medication on Nauru. Refugees are scared to go to the hospital. When MSF came, they helped a lot of people. Many people could get treatment. Since MSF left, people are hopeless. I have lots of friends and an uncle still on Nauru.

I hope for a good place, especially for my brother: for him to be safe, to study well, get normal. Right now, on the visa I have in Australia, I can’t study, I can’t work. So I just stay in my home – for what? I am worried I will get worse, get mental health problems. I want to study. I would like to be a pilot.

 “I am worried I will get worse, get mental health problems. I want to study. I would like to be a pilot.”

For the people still on Nauru, I hope they can come to Australia, or go to a third country, and be able to start their lives in a safe place. If they are kept on Nauru for even one or two months more, they will get worse. It’s more than five years for people there. The thing is, the Australian government can help them. They can bring them here, keep them safe and allow them to study, work and contribute to society.

If you listen to the stories of the young single men, you’ll cry. Many lost their family, or want to look after their family, but they can’t do anything. It’s a very bad experience for people on Nauru.”


*Name has been changed