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20 Sep 2018


AMA demands urgent fix to humanitarian emergency on Nauru

The AMA has called on the Government to urgently transfer refugee families from Nauru, describing the situation there as a humanitarian emergency.

In a letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, AMA President Dr Tony Bartone urged a policy rethink and demanded that asylum seeker children and their families be removed from Nauru as a matter of priority.

Dr Bartone said deteriorating physical and mental health among refugee children and their families meant they should be relocated to more appropriate places, preferably in mainland Australia.

“Put bluntly, we want some urgent action to help these vulnerable people who find themselves in a hopeless, despairing situation,” Dr Bartone wrote in his letter to the PM.

“The AMA has been calling for a more humanitarian approach, including independent assessment of health care arrangements, for many years now.

“The medical situation for the children on Nauru has been described by health experts, including medical staff who have worked on Nauru, as critical and getting worse. It is a humanitarian emergency requiring urgent intervention.

“We have been given some hope at the bureaucratic level, but a slammed door at the political level.

“The AMA and the medical profession are demanding a change of policy – a change of policy that reflects community concern for the health of asylum seekers.”

Dr Bartone said the AMA wants to see a more compassionate Government approach to the health care of refugees and asylum seekers in the care of the Australian Government.

He said there had been a recent groundswell of concern and agitation across the AMA membership and the medical profession about conditions on Nauru and the escalation in reports of catastrophic mental and physical health conditions being experienced by the asylum seekers, especially children.

“As a suburban Melbourne GP for more than 30 years, and a grassroots Australian with strong community connections and Christian values, I passionately believe we can and must do more to look after the health of these people, many of whom have fled war, conflict, or persecution,” he wrote.

“There are now too many credible reports concerning the effects of long-term detention and uncertainty on the physical and mental health of asylum seekers.

“It is within the power of the Government to move on this issue and play its part in allowing traumatised people to begin rebuilding their lives.

“Australia is a caring nation with a long history of compassion and respect for human rights. We need to show the Australian people and the world that we are still a caring nation.

“The AMA believes that asylum seeker children and their families on Nauru must be removed and given access to physical and mental health care of an appropriate standard.”

Dr Bartone repeated the AMA’s call for the Government to facilitate access to Nauru for a delegation of Australian medical professionals to assess the health and welfare of child refugees and asylum seekers.

“This includes access to the children and their families and/or carers, the International Health and Medical Services (IHMS) medical professionals administering to the children, and any Nauruan Government officials administering to the children,” he said.

“Membership of the delegation would be determined in consultation with the AMA and the delegation would make public the findings of its inspections and interviews to assure the Australian public that the Australian Government has done all that is possible to protect the health and wellbeing of asylum seekers and refugees.”

In a separate letter to all MPs and Senators urging support and advocacy for the AMA position, Dr Bartone reminded politicians that, in April 2017, the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee released the report of its inquiry into asylum seekers on Nauru.

The inquiry made two recommendations about the availability of medical services and medical transfers:

  • Recommendation 1: The committee recommends that the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, as a matter of urgency, commission an external review of its medical transfer procedures in offshore processing centres.
  • Recommendation 2: The committee recommends that the Australian Government undertake to seek advice in relation to whether improvements are required to the medical treatment options available to asylum seekers and refugees in the Republic of Nauru and Papua New Guinea, particularly mental health services.

The Government has not yet responded to the inquiry.

Dr Bartone praised the hard work and dedication of doctors and health workers who have been providing care with IHMS on Nauru.

“These health professionals and their employer have been doing their best in very trying conditions in isolation – and under a veil of secrecy not of their doing,” Dr Bartone said.

“The Government must get fair dinkum and give these long-suffering asylum seeker children, many of whom are extremely ill, and their families a fair go – bring them to Australia for proper care in the best possible environment for their severe mental and physical health conditions.”

There are about 100 children on Nauru. Many have been in detention long-term. Media reports suggest about 20 of the children are refusing food and fluids.

Despite widespread community support for the AMA stance, the Prime Minister remains unmoved.

“We are getting families off Nauru. That’s exactly what we’re doing. That’s why we have the arrangement with the United States and that’s why we are pursuing that…” Mr Morrison told reporters in response to the AMA letter.

“But I think you all know my views about this. I’m not going to put at risk any element of Australia’s protection policy.”

Under the arrangement with the US, a small number of refugees that were held in Australia's offshore processing centres are being resettled in America.



Published: 20 Sep 2018