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30 Aug 2018

Strong lobbying from the AMA over the plight of a 12-year-old refugee on Nauru has resulted in him being flown with his whole family to Australia for urgent medical treatment.

The boy had refused food and medicine for more than 20 days due to his mental state after being detained for four years.

The Australian Border Force initially would not transfer the boy to Australia unless it was without his family. The boy refused to leave the camp unless his family, including his stepfather, accompanied him.

The family fled persecution in Iran and all have been acknowledged as refugees, meaning they are owed protection by Australia under international law.

But the Government’s hard line led to a standoff between the boy and Border Force.

With the boy drifting close to death, the situation caused outrage in the Australian and international communities and also sparked the intervention of the AMA.

AMA President Dr Tony Bartone called on the Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton to do the right thing by the boy and his family.

“My response to the Minister in this situation would be as simple as this: these people are in our care. They are owed a certain level of care by International Convention, and any person in the care of the Australian Government needs to be treated with that same access to the appropriate health care,” Dr Bartone told ABC Radio.

“We’re not saying that you need to have every possible service on the island, but if it does get to a situation where they need to … have that access, that ability to be transferred off the island; it's done expeditiously ahead of time, ahead of the critical nature.

“The reports that we saw … was a case where things were going too far too long and there are workarounds, there are options to take our people off the island when and so needed because of health care.”

The AMA Federal Council unanimously passed three motions calling on the Government to act urgently to guarantee the health and wellbeing of asylum seeker children and their families on Nauru.

Dr Bartone said the medical staff employed by International Health and Medical Services on Nauru are doing their best in trying conditions, but the Australian public needs to be informed and shown that these asylum seekers are receiving appropriate care and support.

“The AMA repeats its call for a delegation of independent Australian health professionals to be allowed to visit and examine the asylum seekers – adults and children – and report on their condition to the Australian Parliament and the Australian people,” he said.

“It is our responsibility to care for these people. It is all about human rights. It is the right thing to do.”

Following the AMA intervention, the boy was medi-evacuated from Nauru to Australia by air ambulance, accompanied by his mother, stepfather and sister. 

AMA Federal Council Motion 1:

Given multiple reports of a looming children’s health crisis on Nauru, Federal Council calls for urgent action to prevent further harm to the health and welfare of child refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru.

We ask that these children and their families be removed from harm and have access to healthcare of an appropriate standard.

AMA Federal Council Motion 2:

Federal Council further demands that the Federal Government facilitates access to Nauru for a delegation of Australian medical professionals, to be appointed in consultation with the AMA, to assess the health and welfare of child refugees and asylum seekers. This includes access to the children and their families and/or carers, as well as the Nauruan officials administering to the children.

An appropriate delegation would potentially include a psychiatrist, a public health expert, a paediatrician and an infectious diseases physician.

This delegation would then 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. 

AMA Federal Council Motion 3:

Federal Council further expects that the Australian Government satisfactorily provides comprehensive answers to the following two questions, which relate to the looming children’s health crisis among refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru, who were placed there by the Australian Government:

  1. What are the healthcare arrangements, both physical and mental, in place for child refugee and asylum seekers on Nauru?
  2. What are the transfer arrangements for the child refugee and asylum seekers on Nauru and their immediate family members or carers if they require transfer from Nauru to access healthcare treatments that are not available on Nauru?



Published: 30 Aug 2018