KATHARINE MURPHY. AMA president calls for urgent transfer of refugee families from Nauru.

Sep 21, 2018

Exclusive: Tony Bartone writes to Scott Morrison saying situation is ‘a humanitarian emergency requiring urgent intervention’.

The president of the Australian Medical Association has urged Scott Morrisonto take urgent action to remove families and children from Nauru, preferably to the Australian mainland, to safeguard their physical and mental health.

In a letter to Morrison from Dr Tony Bartone, seen by Guardian Australia, the AMA president says the medical profession is “demanding a change of policy” in recognition that the situation on Nauru is now “a humanitarian emergency requiring urgent intervention”.

As well as urging the new prime minister to change the policy he presided over as a former immigration minister, the AMA president has asked Morrison to facilitate access to Nauru for a delegation of Australian doctors to assess the health and wellbeing of people in detention.

The AMA president says the medical delegation would make their findings public “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”.

Bartone says the AMA is also concerned about the health and wellbeing of asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea, and is seeking assurances “that the standard of healthcare in PNG is of an appropriate standard”.

“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,” Bartone says to Morrison in the letter.

He says his decision to write to the prime minister was prompted by “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”.

“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,” Bartone says. “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.”

The AMA president has also written to all federal parliamentarians asking them to support the push to provide better healthcare for refugees and asylum seekers.

There are about 100 children on Nauru, with many in long-term detention. Doctors have appealed for a large cohort to be removed because of a deterioration in their physical and mental health. There have been a spate of horrific cases in recent months involving minors.

Medical sources on Nauru have told Guardian Australia there are at least 20 children in the Australian-run regional processing centre 1 (RPC1) on “food and fluid refusal” and at risk of permanent harm or death.

Other refugee children who remain in the community are also refusing to eat and drink, but are not receiving intensive medical care “because RPC1 is full of dangerously sick kids”, a Nauru source said earlier this month.

In his letter to all parliamentarians, Bartone references a Senate inquiry from 2017 that recommended 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”.

The inquiry also recommended the government seek advice in relation to whether improvements are required to the medical treatment options available to asylum seekers and refugees in Nauru and Papua New Guinea – particularly mental health services.

The AMA president notes the government has not yet responded to the inquiry.

He says health professionals on Nauru “have been doing their best in very trying conditions in isolation – and under a veil of secrecy not of their doing”.

“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”.

This article was published by The Guardian on the 20th of September 2018. 

Katharine Murphy is Guardian Australia’s political editor. She has worked in Canberra’s parliamentary gallery for 15 years. In 2008, she won the Paul Lyneham award for excellence in press gallery journalism, while in 2012 she was a Walkley award finalist in the best digital journalism category

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