Médecins Sans Frontières wants the immediate evacuation of asylum seekers from Nauru. The international non-governmental organisation has said many of the detainees that Australia sent to the island nation were suicidal.

The organisation, also called Doctors Without Borders, was forced out of the country by the Nauruan government last week. The doctors had been offering free medical care for the asylum seekers and refugees that were sent there, as well as for the local citizens, since setting foot on the country in late 2017.

In a statement released Thursday, MSF “strongly condemned” the Nauru’s government for stopping its doctors from giving asylum seekers, refugees and local residents desperately needed mental health care.

“For years, hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers trying to reach Australia have been held indefinitely on Nauru at the behest of the Australian government. Many of these individuals suffer severe mental health conditions. MSF called for the immediate evacuation of all asylum seekers and refugees from Nauru and an end to Australia’s offshore detention policy.

It said almost all 900 asylum seekers and refugees on Nauru, including 115 children, have been on the island for more than five years. And with no clear process or prospect of permanent resettlement, they have lost hope and are stuck in a “vicious cycle of deep despair, with many having lost the will to live.” At least 78 patients seen by MSF doctors had suicidal ideations, engaged in self-harm or attempted suicide. Even children as young as nine said they would rather die than live on Nauru.

MSF psychologists and psychiatrists had been working to stabilise and manage the symptoms of the patients on Nauru for the last 11 months. But therapy alone was not a solution to the people’s cases.

“Our patients often describe their situation as far worse than prison because in prison you know when you can get out,” MSF psychiatrist Dr Beth O’Connor said. “While in my professional opinion there is no therapeutic solution for these patients as long as they are trapped on the island, I fear the withdrawal of MSF’s psychiatric and psychological health care from Nauru will claim lives.”

MSF also accused the Australian government’s policy of indefinite offshore detention of degrading the refugees’ resilience and reducing their hope that they would lead safe and meaningful lives someday.

“Separating families and forcibly holding men, women and children on a remote island indefinitely with no hope or protection except in the case of a medical emergency is cruel, inhumane and degrading,” MSF Australia’s executive director, Paul McPhun, said. “While the Australian government describes offshore detention as a humanitarian policy, our experience proves that there is nothing humanitarian about saving people from the sea only to leave them in an open air prison on Nauru.

“This policy should be stopped immediately and should not be replicated by any government. It’s not MSF’s psychiatrists and psychologists that should be leaving Nauru; it’s the hundreds of asylum seekers and refugees that Australia has trapped on the island for the past five years that should be leaving.”

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians agreed that the situation on Nauru “constitutes a medical emergency.” It added that the Australian government should transfer all refugee and asylum seeker children and their families to Australia.