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Let them out

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The Federal Government’s refugee policies will come under attack at a forum being organised by the AMA to highlight the enormous harm caused by indefinite detention.

As doctors at Brisbane’s Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital stand steadfast in their refusal to discharge a one-year-old girl who faces being sent back to the immigration detention centre on Nauru, hundreds are expected to attend an AMA forum in Sydney on 21 February condemning the treatmernt of asylum seekers.

AMA President Professor Brian Owler, who will address the forum, is expected to highlight concerns about the standard of health care provided to asylum seekers, particularly those held in offshore facilities, and to call for the immediate release of all children currently being detained.

The forum, which is expected to be attended by leading clinicians, entertainers, commentators, jurists and religious leaders, comes as the Government advances plans to deport 267 asylum seekers, including 72 children, to Nauru after seeing off a High Court challenge to the legality of its offshore detention regime.

In a landmark decision, the High Court rejected the claim by a Bangladeshi woman detained by immigration authorities that the Government’s arrangement with Nauru breached the Constitution.

The nation’s highest court ruled that the Commonwealth’s memorandum of understanding with the Nauruan Government was authorised by section 61 of the Constitution, and its move to hire Transfield to operate the detention centre on the island was “a valid law”.

Releasing an AMA Position Statement on the health care of asylum seekers late last year, Professor Owler said that although the number of children being held in detention had declined dramatically under the Coalition Government, the practise needed to end completely.

“Detention has severe adverse effects on the health of all asylum seekers, but the harms in children are more serious,” Professor Owler said late last year. “Some of the children have spent half their lives in detention, which is inhumane and totally unacceptable.

“These children are suffering extreme physical and mental health issues, including severe anxiety and depression. Many of these conditions will stay with them throughout their lives.”

The forum, which will be held at the Ionic Room, SMC Conference and Function Centre, 66 Goulburn Street, Sydney on Sunday, 21 February from 11am, will also hear from leading child health experts from the Children’s Hospital at Westmead, including Consultant PaediatricianProfessor Elizabeth Elliott; Clinical Professor, Paediatrics and Child Health, Professor David Isaacs; and Paediatric Nurse Alanna Maycock.

Meanwhile, the Government is being frustrated by the action of doctors, nurses and hospital administrators in refusing to discharge children who face being returned to detention.

Since 12 February, doctors at the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital have refused to release baby Asha, who was evacuated there from Nauru after being badly burnt by boiling water.

A hospital spokesman told the ABC that the child would not be discharged until a “suitable home environment is identified, as is the case with every child who presents at hospital”.

The spokesman said decisions relating to treatment and discharge were made by qualified clinical staff “with the goal of delivering the best outcome”.

The decision is a rebuke to the Government over the quality of care it provides for detainees, particularly those held offshore.

It echoes similar action taken by doctors at Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital late last year.

The AMA said all asylum seekers and refugees should have universal access to basic health care, something that was “clearly not happening.”

The AMA Position Statement on the Health Care of Asylum Seekers and Refugees can be viewed at: position-statement/health-care-asylum-seekers-and-refugees-2011-revised-2015

The details of the AMA forum on asylum seeker health are:

Date:          Sunday, 21st February 2016

Venue:        Ionic Room, SMC Conference and Function Centre, 66 Goulburn St, Sydney

Time:          11:00am – 1:00pm

RSVP:         By COB Thursday, 18th February 2016 to


Adrian Rollins