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Medical Charity Sounds Alarm on Detained Refugees on Nauru

FILE - A refugee from Somalia, who had previously attempted to commit suicide, is seen doing kitchen chores at Camp Five on the Pacific island of Nauru, Sept. 2, 2018.

The international aid group Doctors Without Borders says asylum seekers banished by Australia to a detention camp on the remote Pacific island of Nauru have suffered a "radical" decline of their mental health.

The medical charity, known by its French name Medecins Sans Frontieres, was providing mental health care to the detainees for several months until the charity was suddenly forced to leave last week.

The group's Australia executive director, Paul McPhun, says nearly 80 of the detainees have either attempted suicide, harbored suicidal thoughts or harmed themselves. McPhun says many of the children in detention are in a "semi-comatose state," unable to eat, drink or talk.

The indefinite detention of the asylum seekers has "destroyed their resilience, shattered all hope, and ultimately impacted their mental health," McPhun added.

Since 2014, Canberra has barred asylum seekers trying to arrive on its shores by boat, and sent them to camps on Nauru and Papua New Guinea, where they have remained under indefinite detention. The policy has been condemned by the United Nations and human rights groups.