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10 Sep 2018

While regional leaders gathered together on Nauru for the Pacific Islands Forum early in September, the AMA used the occasion to repeat its call for better treatment of asylum seekers.

The meeting also coincided with fresh reports about children threatening suicide due to their detained status on Nauru.

AMA President Dr Tony Bartone said such children and their families should be removed from Nauru immediately.

“We need to be perfectly clear, we’ve put out a resolution, a call, that all children on Nauru and their families be taken off the island as a matter of urgency because we know for a fact they've come from very difficult situations, from damaged backgrounds, a lot of trauma, a lot of stress, in that previous past,” Dr Bartone told Sky News.

“They’ve been in a situation of continual uncertainty, unfamiliarity with the detention, even albeit in a community setting. We need to ensure that the mental health and wellbeing of these people are what we would expect is first order of priority for anyone in the care of the Australian Government.

“And we’ve called for children and their families be taken off Nauru as a matter of urgency, whether it’s to Australia, whether it’s to another destination that has the agreement of the Australian Minister. That’s for them to decide. But we can’t see any reason why they should remain on Nauru any longer.”

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern used the gathering to repeat her offer to resettle the refugees in New Zealand. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has so far refused the offer, repeating the stance of his predecessor Malcolm Turnbull.

World Vision boss Tim Costello recently described the treatment of asylum seekers on Nauru as torture.

“There’s no question that the psychological torture of not being able to actually resettle, and you can’t go back home, is torture,” Mr Costello has said.

Dr Bartone did not use that terminology, but he stressed that there was great harm being done to the detained asylum seekers.  

“We’ve received some alarming reports, both through social media and through other indirect channels, about the consequences in the long-term harm that some of these children are experiencing,” Dr Bartone said.

“And the effects that they’re having on their mind and effects that they’re taking out on their body, the way they even live day to day. We’ve just been very categorical. They cannot remain, they should not be allowed to remain in situations which are putting them at harm, continued harm, and risk their ongoing mental health and wellbeing.

“Obviously, it certainly is within the realms of significant mental harm and mental stress. We can argue about the terminology, we can argue about whether it reaches that, but from any point or any shape or form, it’s unacceptable that they continue to have the ongoing effects on their mental health and wellbeing.”

The AMA Federal Council unanimously passed three motions in August calling on the Government to act urgently to guarantee the health and wellbeing of asylum seeker children and their families on Nauru – including that they be removed from the island; that a delegation of Australian medical professionals be given access to assess those on the island; and that the Government answer specific questions about the health and transfer arrangements of the refugees.

CHRIS JOHNSON

 


Published: 10 Sep 2018