Indrika Ratwatte, the Asia Pacific director for its refugee agency the UNHCR, recently visited the Nauru detention centre and described the conditions as “shocking”.
“Looking at the conditions here, particularly the mental health situation, it’s very, very shocking,” he said.
“We must make every effort to get refugees out of this situation.”
Mr Ratwatte said family separation was a major issue.
“I have a seen a little girl of 14 years old and her father in Nauru where the mother and her siblings are in Australia for medical treatment,” he said.
“This little girl was in a catatonic state, who hasn’t gotten out of her room in months, who has not taken a shower, who is in a state of complete stress and trauma.
“These situations need to be avoided.”
Mr Ratwatte said solutions were needed to stop incidents of self-harm.
“I think the situation of children going the path of self-harm and suicide is symptomatic of the despair and hopelessness that is prevailing here,” he said.
“Nobody should be in a position to seek such dire recourse.”
The Australian Government has been urged to rethink its offshore processing policy.
“While there is a perspective that this is a policy that takes people away from harm and death at sea we should make sure that that approach does not lead to individuals eventually being harmed on land,” Mr Ratwatte said.
“UNHCR and the Australian Government have a long history in enabling protection for refugees in this country.
“It’s extremely important that that strong tradition prevails, the sense of compassion and respect prevails and that Australia is a leader in the region and beyond in best practices.”
In February, the Federal Court ordered the Commonwealth bring a young girl from the Nauru detention centre to Australia for urgent psychiatric treatment.