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It is heartening to see the Australian media this week full of negative reports about the government’s harsh policies towards refugees. Perhaps now we can apply enough pressure on the government to moderate their approach.
Asylum seekers being detained on Christmas Island and off shore on Nauru and Manus Island are being subjected to a regime of coercion and intimidation and living in appalling conditions in a deliberate bid to force them to go home…inadequate healthcare and, contrary to government policy, forced family separation or threats of separation, has created a toxic mix of despair and fear among the asylum population.
In continuation with this policy of separating families, it was with great distress that we discovered on Thursday 14th November that the Australian government was restricting an asylum seeker from visiting her 1 week old baby, in intensive care with respiratory problems at Mater Hospital in Brisbane, to a six-hour window between 10am and 4pm. The mother, Latifa, is 31-years old and spent nearly 10 years in a refugee camp in Malaysia. Her son, Farus, was born by ceasarean section after Latifa was flown from Nauru to Brisbane for the birth. Latifa was separated from her baby on Sunday, four days after a caesarean delivery.
Latifa is confined to the Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodation, 20 minutes away, where her husband and two children, four and seven, are being held. Latifa’s husband, Niza, is not allowed to visit the child at all.
Misha Coleman, a qualified midwife, said the separation of mother and child marked a worrying development in the government’s hardline asylum seeker policy. ”As a midwife this is the most diabolical situation for a mother and a newborn one could imagine,”
Morrison on Thursday 14th November defended his hardline stance stating erroneously that:
Doctors at the hospital advise it is common practice for mothers not to stay overnight with babies in special care units due to bed restrictions
Subsequently the Mater hospital released a statement contradicting Morrison:
Mater places no restrictions on women and they can visit their baby any time where possible
Former Liberal Leader John Hewson, on Friday 15th November, accused Morrison of arrogance, saying his treatment of the woman was ridiculous.
It’s inhumanity in the extreme in my view, I mean a mother in these circumstances is normally given 24-hour access to a child in intensive care
In a spectacular about-face Prime Minister Tony Abbott today said he “deeply” regrets that an asylum seeker was given limited access to her sick baby, but won’t apologise “for what happens when people come to Australia illegally“. Morrison bowed to media pressure and stated at his weekly briefing for Operation Sovereign Borders:
I have requested my department to look at the arrangements that were put around that particular instance to ensure a mother would have as much access to their child as they would request.
The president of the Australian Human Rights Commission Gillian Triggs says vulnerable people are facing inhumane situations in offshore detention centres. “We’re concerned about the particular harsh environments for more vulnerable people,” Professor Triggs said. “It’s a difficult environment for anybody but to be sending youths and women, particularly pregnant women and very young children, to that environment must be be very harsh and is something we’re very troubled by.” Latifa stated in an interview that while pregnant she was detained in a tent for two weeks on Nauru. She says they were served pre-prepared meals that were sometimes only half-cooked, and she says it was hot inside the tents. “It was too hot. I cannot explain. Even day or night I could not fall asleep because of the heat”
While the way that Latifa and Niza’s family have been treated is undoubtedly inhumane, perhaps they are lucky that the birth took place in Brisbane and not on Nauru itself amid reports that around 360 babies are born each year in the hospital on Nauru. The babies then return to the camp where temperatures in the tents reach 50 degrees Celsius and in August 2013, 100 asylum seekers detained on Nauru contracted gastroenteritis:
What we’re worried about is the survival of those babies post-delivery in these inhumane conditions: communal tents, 50-degree heat and no running water: Asylum seeker advocate and former midwife Pamela Curr