Pressure is mounting on Scott Morrison to remove children from refugee detention on Nauru.
Pressure is mounting on Scott Morrison to remove children from refugee detention on Nauru.

The issue Morrison can no longer ignore

HUMANITARIAN agencies are horrified, doctors are pleading for urgent action and now Scott Morrison's own colleagues are calling for refugee children to be removed from Nauru.

It has officially become the issue - one worsening by the day, according to experts - that the prime minister can no longer ignore.

Government backbenchers Craig Laundy, Julia Banks and Russell Broadbent have lobbied Mr Morrison to urgently bring all children and their parents to Australia, fast-tracking removal from offshore detention for those youngsters who need urgent care.

The Herald Sun reports that there's growing concern among Liberal MPs that a hard line stance - including reported attempts by Home Affairs and Border Force to delay the medical evacuations of children - are inhumane.

"This is an embarrassing ­humanitarian crisis that the government needs to resolve in a manner acceptable to the Australian people," Mr Broadbent told the newspaper.

Medical experts warn significant damage is being inflicted on children held in indefinite detention in camps on Nauru.
Medical experts warn significant damage is being inflicted on children held in indefinite detention in camps on Nauru.

In one of several concerning examples, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton had to be taken to court in September and ordered to allow the evacuation from Nauru to Australia of a critically ill family. Mr Dutton was also ordered to pay all costs associated.

There is growing support in the party room for a shift on current policy, with the newspaper saying two ministers back change.

Now, Labor has announced it will introduce legislation to ensure children in detention centres receive the urgent medical care they need.

The government is failing in its obligations to provide adequate medical care for children, the Opposition's Immigration and Border Protection spokesman Shayne Neumann said.

The proposed legislation would ensure treatment recommendations are a "primary concern", assessed within 24 hours, dealt with transparently and overseen by an independent health advice panel.

"These are practical, reasonable and responsible measures to address the chaotic, confusing and inconsistent medical transfer process that currently exists for asylum seeker and refugee children," Mr Neumann said.

 

Iranian refugee Sahar with her daughter Melanie. Sahar has been detained for five years. Picture: Lyndon Mechielsen
Iranian refugee Sahar with her daughter Melanie. Sahar has been detained for five years. Picture: Lyndon Mechielsen

Yesterday, Australian doctors ramped up a campaign to have children in detention removed from deteriorating conditions on Nauru, describing it as an "unconscionable" situation.

The Australian Medical Association's paediatric representative Paul Bauert said significant damage had been inflicted on children held there.

"This is the only situation I've come across where it is deliberate government policy which is causing the pain and suffering of these children," Dr Bauert said.

 

The Australian Medical Association has called for the immediate evacuation of children from Nauru. Picture: AAP
The Australian Medical Association has called for the immediate evacuation of children from Nauru. Picture: AAP

 

The international group Medicins Sans Frontieres was told earlier this month by officials in Nauru that mental health services must cease and their presence was no longer welcomed.

"We are extremely concerned for the impact this decision will have on our patients and about the beyond desperate situation in which we have been forced to leave our patients," MSF said in a statement.

"We want to reinforce our condemnation of this sudden decision and the way we were forced to end our activities. We strongly condemn the Australian policy of offshore detention, which is the real cause of the situation of mental health distress among refugees on the island."

The United Nations Human Rights Council last month heard that refugees were held on Nauru indefinitely and some children had been stuck there for five years.

Daniel Webb, Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, said many of those 134 children had now "lost hope".

Local and international condemnation is growing, but it could be a push by his own colleagues that forces Prime Minister Scott Morrison to act. Picture: AAP
Local and international condemnation is growing, but it could be a push by his own colleagues that forces Prime Minister Scott Morrison to act. Picture: AAP

"Some have stopped speaking. Some have stopped eating. A 10-year-old boy recently tried to kill himself," Mr Webb told a UN meeting in Geneva.

"Even the Government's own medical advisers are now speaking out, warning that the situation on Nauru is untenable and that children will die."

Mr Morrison yesterday dismissed the protests by Australian doctors, saying he would not be forced into a backdown on border security.

However today, he told reporters that he was listening to his concerned colleagues, saying: "I've been meeting with those colleagues, as have the relevant ministers."

Dr Bauert said a matter had come to his attention on Sunday involving two children from Iran, aged 12 and 14, who had stopped eating.

The treatment of children in detention and their welfare has been an issue for some time but action has been dangerously slow. Picture: Darren England.
The treatment of children in detention and their welfare has been an issue for some time but action has been dangerously slow. Picture: Darren England.