Politics

Medical Staff On Nauru Say Children May Die If We Don’t Bring Them Here

What is the government doing to help them?

manus island human rights nauru kids in detention

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Politicians and refugee advocates are calling for children held in offshore detention on Nauru to be brought to Australia urgently for medical treatment, after medical officials on the island warned a child may die if we don’t act.

Anonymous medical staff on Nauru told The Guardian yesterday that multiple refugee children are currently experiencing serious medical conditions that put them at risk of death. One 12-year-old is reportedly on a hunger strike that has required him to be sedated and fed intravenously, while a 14-year-old who has not left his bed in months has severe muscle wastage that may lead to lifelong damage.

Meanwhile, children on Nauru have begun to be diagnosed with resignation syndrome, a rare disorder that previously had only been found in refugee children in Sweden. The syndrome is characterised by a child’s total withdrawal from life, including a refusal to eat, talk, move, or even open their eyes.

An official on Nauru told The Guardian that “we have been saying for months a child is going to die in these circumstances,” and that “it’s never been so critical”. Two weeks ago, George Newhouse, director of the National Justice Project which has represented sick kids on Nauru in court cases against the Australian Government, told Junkee he had similar concerns.

“We are very concerned about the health and welfare of children on Nauru, and if the current policy continues, I fear that a child might die there,” he said at the time. When we followed up with him today, his concerns were unchanged. “I remain extremely concerned about the state of these children,” he said. “My fear that one might die has not abated”.

Despite the repeated voicing of fears that children will die if the Australian Government does not act urgently, however, government action appears to be minimal. The Australian Government has regularly gone to court to actively oppose the urgent transfer of children from Nauru to Australia, and yesterday Greens Senator Nick McKim slammed Labor and Liberal MPs for getting caught up condemning Fraser Anning‘s racism “while children in offshore detention are catatonic because of a bipartisan policy of torture and deliberate cruelty”.

Then there’s the fact that yesterday when Parliament did turn its attention to offshore detention, it was to pass a bill that patched up a mistake that might have meant the offshore detention of around 1600 asylum seekers was unlawful. Both major parties voted together to essentially, as McKim put it, “rewrite history because their detention of up to 1600 people seeking asylum was based on a legal fiction”.

“All of yesterday’s speeches about rejecting racism ring hollow while the Labor and Liberal parties continue to detain and deliberately harm men, women and children on Manus Island and Nauru,” McKim said.

The Department of Home Affairs did not respond to our requests for comment by time of publication. We’ll update this story if they respond, or take any meaningful action to deliver appropriate medical care to the children whose lives are at risk on Nauru.

Update: A spokesperson for the Department told Junkee that “a range of health services are available in Nauru including general practitioners, psychiatrists, counsellors, mental health nurses and specialists who provide clinical assessment and treatment in-country.”

“Decisions about medical transfers are made on a case by case basis according to clinical need, in consultation with the contracted health services provider and the Government of Nauru.”