Inspiring and courageous action in support of refugee children
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Doctors, nurses, medical professionals and support and administration workers at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne have sent a sharp message to the federal government that the inhuman imprisonment of refugee children in off-shore detention centres must come to an end.
At the end of August there were 1382 men, 114 women and 93 children held on New Guinea’s Manus Island and on the small Pacific island nation of Nauru. A further 104 children are in detention on the Australian mainland, with 405 more living in community detention.
Many of these wretched people are fleeing from ethnic and religious conflicts, from corruption, poverty and violence in countries broken by imperialist greed, subversion and invasion, from countries with shattered infrastructure and dysfunctional government services.
Hundreds of health workers at the hospital have united in a campaign to demand the release of traumatised children in immigration detention centres in Australia, Manus Island and Nauru. They have asserted their right as medical carers to refuse to release children from hospital to go back into the cruel detention centres that had traumatised them originally.
Many were dismayed and infuriated at the stationing of Border Force guards in hospital wards where children were recovering from the physical and mental abuse they had suffered in the centres.
Their anger became even greater when it was learned that the government had passed laws forbidding their fellow medical workers in the detention centres from public criticism, and a law that threatens up to two years jail for refusal to cooperate with immigration authorities.
On International Mental Health Day on October 10th a mass rally of more than 1000 health workers stood together outside the hospital and pledged to resist the government’s attempts at intimidation and harassment.
Leading medical professionals have spoken out strongly in the media against this inhumane policy which has been endorsed and continued by both Labor and now Liberal-National coalition governments.
Dr Tom Connell, head of general medicine at the hospital, stated “In children from detention, our team see children with nightmares, bed wetting, and severe behaviour problems, children from detention develop anxiety and depression. It’s become so common that it’s almost normal in children from detention to have these symptoms. At the Children’s Hospital, our team find it’s almost impossible to treat these children effectively while they remain detained.”
Children’s Hospital paediatrician Prof Paul Monagle was also quoted: “What we see from children in detention is a whole range of physical, mental, emotional and social disturbances that are really severe, and we have no hope of improving things if we’re sending those children back to detention. Many of the children we’re seeing have spent more than half their life in detention. This is all they know and it is not what children should know. Children should be safe in a community with their family, not in detention.”
Another concerned paediatrician was Dr Kate Thomson-Bowe who said, “The emotional development of children is affected, their speech and learning can be affected and the anxiety and mental health consequences can start from very early childhood and we see that has an impact on their development long term. Children need a lot of security and opportunity to play in order to develop normally. The environment of a detention centre is so far from what develops normal opportunity, the families don’t have the opportunity to play together, the children are subject to rules and regulations that no typical child is subjected to.”
The Australian Medical association added its criticism of the government. President Brian Owler endorsed the stand of the medical workers at the hospital and stated, “The detention centres are not suitable environments for the health of all detainees, but the effects on children are far worse.”
Others to speak out included Prof Louise Newman, director of mental health at the Royal Women’s Hospital and paediatrician David Isaacs from Westmead Hospital in Sydney.
Even the chairman of the Royal Children’s Hospital, Rob Knowles, supported the stand of the medical workers at the hospital.
And, to her credit, the Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessy challenged the federal government, “I’m extremely proud to be the health minister in a state where its doctors and nurses are putting the interest of children first. If the staff of the Royal Children’s Hospital come to the clinical view that it is not in the interests of those children to go back into detention, then we will support them.”
Needless to say, all the passion and concern was brushed aside by federal Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, an ex-copper who intends to expand the reviled detention system into the Philippines, another country struggling with extreme poverty, and dominated by a corrupt political clique who use violent gangs and military repression to keep the masses in check.
However, in the general community there was widespread support for the medical workers at the Royal Children’s Hospital. This was reflected the following day when thousands rallied across the country calling for an end to the cruel refugee detention scheme.
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