How Nauru collapsed
ONCE upon a time, the tiny island nation of Nauru was one of the wealthiest countries in the world.
It became a remote mining outpost in the early 1900s thanks to its massive supply of the mineral phosphate, which provided riches for those who dug it up and shipped it out.
Profits from mining royalties were placed in a trust, to guarantee a bright future for the now 11,000-odd locals. At its peak, the fund was valued at $1 billion.
But now, it's virtually empty due to dodgy investments and corruption.
Nauru's phosphate deposits are all but depleted and the national economy is non-existent.
The unemployment rate is 90 per cent, some two-thirds of land are uninhabitable and there is nowhere to grow fresh food.
There is no steady income - except, for the past several years, in the form of the imported indefinite detention of refugees trying to reach Australia.
A CASH COW
Hundreds of millions of dollars have been paid to Nauru since it started holding detainees on behalf of Australia.
For those housed in makeshift camps, Australia pays several thousand dollars per person, per month for their care.
In addition to the cost of the headcount, the government has spent hundreds of millions more on infrastructure - both for refugee detention and processing, as well as aid projects for locals.
A Senate Estimates committee last year heard that the total cost of offshore detention since 2012, on both Nauru and the now-closed Manus Island facility, was $5 billion.
As refugees leave, Nauru's income dwindles and economists say the island's economic future is bleak.
THE TIDE IS TURNING
Nauru will be watching closely a significant shift in public sentiment in Australia, as pressure mounts on the government to remove children and their families immediately.
Tony Abbott might be one of the few people left who's in favour of sticking with the current policy and resisting calls for change.
Speaking on Sydney radio this morning, the former PM urged Prime Minister Scott Morrison to ignore the swiftly turning tide of opinion, despite a damning poll showing Australians want a change in policy.
Mr Abbott said children on Nauru are "very well looked after" and described the country as a "very, very pleasant island".
Yesterday, a YouGov Galaxy poll published in The Sunday Telegraph showed 80 per cent of people want children and their families transferred off Nauru.
It also found support for a resettlement offer made by New Zealand, which the government has resisted, and found one-quarter of voters would be more inclined to support the Coalition if the deal was accepted.
Humanitarian group World Vision urged Canberra to listen to public demand and act without delay.
"These children are innocent victims and should not, under any circumstances, be held for one day longer," head of policy and advocacy Susan Anderson said.
"This sinister chapter of indefinite offshore refugee detention is a black mark on Australia's record as a civil society and should never be repeated. The prime minister says he's here to help children. The best way is to get the children and their families off Nauru now."
Kids have been held in detention on Nauru for years. Some youngsters have spent their entire lives behind the wire fences of the run-down camps.
But the issue has gained little mainstream traction among the population - until now.
HORROR STORIES EMERGE
Mr Abbott's comments are in stark contrast to frequent warnings by the United Nations, the Australian Medical Association and international group Médecins Sans Frontières about the appalling state of mental health among young refugees.
Earlier this year, a court ordered the urgent evacuation of a child from Nauru that brought the chilling term "resignation syndrome" into mainstream prominence.
The condition, also known as traumatic withdrawal syndrome, is a rare and extreme psychiatric disorder and its presence in several young detainees raised serious concerns.
The child who was evacuated, whose age was suppressed, was in an unconscious and non-responsive state, which made them unable to eat or drink.
They had also suffered muscle wastage and faced risk of death without medical intervention.
"The legal action started to get people paying attention," Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition told news.com.au
"We've campaigned very vigorously to have people receive medical attention that they urgently need. When lawyers started taking action in the Federal Court, it provided the first mechanism to help people."
Louise Newman, psychiatrist and director of the Centre for Women's Mental Health at the Royal Women's Hospital, wrote about resignation syndrome for the ABC.
"Treatment of severe withdrawal is urgent, and can only be undertaken in a hospital setting with specialist paediatric teams and capacity for nutritional support, intravenous rehydration and monitoring of kidney and other bodily functions," Dr Newman said.
"The intensive and specialist treatment needed cannot be provided in Nauru."
Reports of self-harm, hunger strikes, severe mental illness, suicide ideation and suicide attempts prompted the United Nations to repeat its plea for the government to act.
Last month, Daniel Webb, director of legal advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, told the UN's Human Rights Council that children on Nauru had "lost hope".
"Some have stopped eating. A 10-year-old boy recently tried to kill himself," Mr Webb said.
"Even the Government's own medical advisers are now speaking out, warning that the situation on Nauru is untenable and that children will die."
World Vision said the plight of kids on Nauru had been "largely hidden from ordinary Australians" for some time.
It has been aided by the hard line stance of Nauru's government, which routinely denies visas to journalists and earlier this month kicked out Médecins Sans Frontières without warning.
"After almost one year of activity on Nauru, (we were) informed by the government of Nauru that our mental health activities were 'no longer required' and our presence was no longer needed," MSF said in a statement.
"Five days after, we confirmed the end of our activities and closed all Mental Health services provided to the Nauruan population, asylum seekers and refugees.
"We are extremely concerned for the impact this decision will have on our patients and about the 'beyond desperate' situation in which we have been forced to leave our patients."
CALLS FOR ACTION
Refugee advocates have been campaigning to remove detainees from Nauru and fast-track their applications, with some having spent five years on the island.
Protests are regularly held across the country, with the issue of children becoming a more prominent focus over the past year.
"We have been campaigning on this issue for five years," Mr Rintoul said.
The growing number of reported medical cases involving children was one of several factors that began to shift sentiment, he said.
"On top of that, you've got medical services on Nauru being overwhelmed, a lack of psychiatric support, the legal challenges and domestic problems for Scott Morrison that were compounded by the loss of Wentworth," Mr Rintoul added.
Recently, a slew of celebrities and high-profile figures have added their voices to the campaign, including children's group The Wiggles, rock icon Jimmy Barnes and comedian and presenter Meshel Laurie.
"We sing and dance with millions of children all over the world who have those opportunities, but there are more than 100 children trapped in detention on Nauru who don't have this freedom," Wiggles star Anthony Field said a video message last week.
At a rally in Sydney yesterday, Mr Barnes told AAP that the political inaction on the issue was "disgusting" and Australia had become a "joke" on the international stage.
"People are living in detention with no hope, with no future, nothing to live for, nothing to strive for, nothing to dream about - it's criminal," Mr Barnes said.
"We should stand back as a country, the Lucky Country, and say, 'How can we help?' Not be afraid."
Ms Laurie has been vocal on the issue of asylum seekers in offshore detention, and particularly children, for some time.
The veil of secrecy employed by the Nauru government, and supported by Border Force and the Department of Home Affairs, had finally "come home to roost", she said.
"Why the secrecy if they have nothing to be ashamed of in terms of the condition of the refugees on Nauru?" Ms Laurie told news.com.au.
"It's one thing for people to be disengaged with politics, and with the issue of refugees, but when they realised their government has been actively keeping the conditions on Nauru secret, that journalists have been banned from visiting and that volunteer doctors needed to start 'whistleblowing' because they were scared children were going to suicide - that has been a wake up call about the fact that Australia has changed."
ONE STEP FORWARD, TWO BACK
Despite a shift in mood, which saw Mr Morrison pledge action on refugee children in detention in the lead-up to the Wentworth by-election, the government has continued to challenge medical evacuations.
"The government has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in the past few months fighting those Federal Court actions very vigorously," Mr Rintoul said.
The Labor Opposition said last week it would be willing to negotiate with the government to push forward with the New Zealand resettlement offer.
However, Mr Morrison held firm, saying he would not accept the deal unless strict conditions were attached, including blocking anyone transferred to New Zealand from ever living in Australia.
After several Liberal Party backbenchers urged the PM to act, 11 children were evacuated for urgent medical treatment, leaving 52 still in detention.
Mr Morrison said a total of 30 detainees had been brought to Australia in recent weeks.
"Those numbers have been coming down and we will continue to work on that. We have just been getting on and doing it like a responsible and compassionate government should," he told reporters yesterday.
It's understood more children and their families were evacuated from Nauru today, in the wake of yesterday's poll.
"The plight of these children has galvanised opinion and people are saying enough is enough," Mr Rintoul said.