Australian health workers oppose detention of refugee children

October 21, 2015


Doctors at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, have refused to discharge a female asylum seeker and her child because the immigration department would have sent them back to detention at the expense of their health. The woman was suffering post-traumatic stress disorder and post-natal depression, which also affected her infant child’s development. 

Both were flown from detention on the island of Nauru (where Australia has an immigration detention and asylum processing centre) to Australia in late 2014 for hospital treatment. Even though the health of both mother and child had improved by mid-2015, their doctors refused to discharge them unless the Department of Immigration agreed to not return them to detention.

“It was a situation of having to negotiate her and her family’s treatment needs, and it was very much agreed that it was against their interests to be returned to detention,” said Professor Louise Newman, director of mental health at the Royal Women’s Hospital, who treated the mother. “How can we recommend that people go back into detention when we know they’re not going to get proper health care?” According to Professor Newman, the woman and her baby were eventually released into the community and were living in Melbourne with “considerably improved” health.

Enormous toll

This case came to the attention of the press after nearly 1000 doctors, nurses and staff at the Royal Children’s Hospital signed a letter published recently, in which the hospital’s doctors state that detention takes an enormous toll on children’s health, and that the federal government should abandon its policy of locking up minors.

According to vice-president Stephen Parnis of the Australian Medical Association, his organization has been asking the government to look for an alternative to child detention for years. “We acknowledge the evidence that children in detention face circumstances which are very harmful to their health, their growth and their development,” he said. Dr Parnis knew of cases in which children had harmed themselves, suffered from anxiety or severe depression, and were not growing in a healthy or normal way. According to him, a number of doctors who had provided care to children in detention had been quite distressed by what they had seen.

Since July 2015, a new law in Australia forbids contracted workers including doctors and nurses to blowing the whistle on substandard medical care given to asylum seekers in detention centres. They face a prison sentence of up to two years for violating this law.

Source and full article (The Sydney Morning Herald, 11 October 2015)

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