The Australian Medical Association Is Calling On Scott Morrison To Get Kids Off Nauru Right Now

"It is a humanitarian emergency requiring urgent intervention."

Nauru offshore detention

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The president of the Australian Medical Association has described Australia’s offshore detention regime on Nauru as “a humanitarian emergency requiring urgent intervention”, and has called on Scott Morrison to urgently remove children and families from the island.

AMA president Dr. Tony Bartone wrote to the Prime Minister today to express the medical community’s concerns, saying that it would be preferable that kids and families on Nauru be brought to Australia immediately in order to access more appropriate healthcare.

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

The AMA letter is a pretty huge deal — the organisation is the largest body representing Australian doctors and health professionals, who have now officially told the government in no uncertain terms that offshore detention is unacceptably destroying the health of vulnerable people.

The organisation also made it clear that the terrible conditions on Nauru are not new, and that the government has had the opportunity to act for years. “The AMA has been calling for a more humanitarian approach, including independent assessment of health care arrangements, for many years now,” Dr Bartone wrote in the letter.

“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.”

“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.”

In addition to calling for asylum seekers to be transferred to Australia, the AMA also called for the government to allow a group of Australian doctors to travel to Nauru to assess the health of children detained there. The request follows multiple reports of asylum seeker and refugee children on Nauru being diagnosed with resignation syndrome, refusing to eat or drink, and self-harming, including by trying to set themselves on fire.

Dr. Bartone wrote that any delegation of Australian doctors allowed to travel to Nauru 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.”

That seems like the kind of offer a government that maintains it’s doing its best by asylum seekers would accept, but in response to a question from The Guardian at a press conference today, Scott Morrison basically refused.

“We are getting families off Nauru. That’s what we’re doing.” he said instead. “That’s why we have the arrangement with the United States and that’s why we’re pursuing that. We thank our partners in the US with the way we are able to progress with that.”

The arrangement with the United States is the United States’ commitment to resettle a limited number of refugees from Nauru after a lengthy period of assessment. Donald Trump’s travel ban has impacted many refugees’ eligibility for this program, with Iranian and Somali refugees rejected from the program in May. The speed of the resettlement process for eligible refugees is not fast enough to ensure kids in need of urgent physical and mental health care receive it soon enough.

Meanwhile, New Zealand has repeatedly offered to resettle a number of refugees, an offer Australia has rejected. Australia has also rejected the majority of requests for refugees on Nauru to receive medical transfers to Australia, only relenting when ordered by the High Court to do so. Let the AMA letter be a reminder, then: Nauru is “a humanitarian emergency requiring urgent intervention.”