Pervasive refusal syndrome in child asylum seekers on Nauru

Louise Newman*, Beth O’Connor, Vernon Reynolds, George Newhouse

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Objectives: Between 2013 and 2019, an estimated 200 children seeking asylum in Australia were detained on the island of Nauru. In 2018, 15 of these children developed the rare and life-threatening pervasive refusal syndrome (PRS). This paper describes the PRS case cluster, the complexities faced by clinicians managing these cases, and the lessons that can be learned from this outbreak.

Conclusions: The emergence of PRS on Nauru highlighted the risks of long-term detention of children in settings that are unable to meet their physical and psycho-social needs. The case cluster also underscored (a) the difficulties faced by doctors working in conditions where their medical and legal obligations may be in direct conflict, and (b) the role of clinicians in patient advocacy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)585-588
Number of pages4
JournalAustralasian Psychiatry
Issue number5
Early online date10 Sep 2020
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020


  • asylum seekers
  • immigration detention
  • pervasive refusal syndrome


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