Australian doctors are being urged to speak out “loudly and forcefully and insist on change” in policies towards asylum seekers, in the wake of the Federal Government’s dismissal of shocking recent reports of abuse on Nauru.
An open letter to Immigration Minister Peter Dutton urging more humane treatment to refugees and a Royal Commission into allegations of abuses in detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru is being organised by Melbourne pathologist Alison Skene and pathology registrar Eloise House, inspired in part by Academics for Refugees. The letter urges the Federal Government to immediately close the centres and bring all detainees to Australia for rapid processing and appropriate medical and psychological support. It says:
“Those found to be refugees should be offered resettlement in Australia or other developed countries that offer to take them.”
Skene told Croakey that the initiative was also in response to the recognition by Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs that only the Australian public paying attention to the horrors in offshore immigration detention can change government policy. Skene said:
“I thought: ‘what else can I do, as an individual, but one with a lot of professional connections. We hope not just to sway the opinion of the Minister and MPs but also public opinion.”
See the text of the letter below.
Professor Nick Talley, editor-in-chief of the Medical Journal of Australia and former president of the Royal Australian College of Physicians, on Tuesday called on doctors to speak out “even more loudly and forcefully” than they have in the past on the overwhelming evidence that detention is causing harm and to protest the secrecy enforced around Nauru and Manus. Australia has, he said, set up an “uncontrolled human experiment”.
In this post on MJAInsight, he said he welcomed the interest that the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has expressed in the case of the Nauru children, but “they deserve more”. He said:
“They deserve the full attention of a Royal Commission, or equivalent process, of their own. A public, accountable investigation dedicated to finding, and resolving, all the problems which surround our offshore detention policy and asylum seeker situation, so all Australians can judge if the current policy settings are fair and reasonable.
I entered medicine to heal and to stand up for the rights of patients, who must come first, particularly the most vulnerable. If we help to shine a light on injustice, if we refuse to ever compromise the principles we swore to uphold as medical practitioners, if we educate effectively and show united leadership, I believe we can make a difference to the lives of vulnerable children who deserve better, both on and off shore.”
An open letter to the Minister for Immigration, Hon Peter Dutton, MP and members of parliament
Cc Hon Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister , Hon Bill Shorten, Leader of the Opposition,
Hon Shayne Neumann, Opposition spokesman for immigration,
Hon Richard Di Natale, Leader of the Greens, Senator Nick Xenophon
Dear Mr Dutton and members of parliament,
We, the undersigned, are Australian doctors from a diverse range of fields of practice. We share common goals of duty and dedication to our patients and respect for all human life. We follow the Australian Medical Council Code of Conduct, which states that ‘good medical practice involves using your expertise and influence to protect and advance the health and wellbeing of individual patients, communities and populations’.
We are very concerned about Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers who come by boat, and urge you to institute more humane policies as a matter of urgency.
Indefinite mandatory detention of women, men and children is harmful to their physical and mental health. According to a submission from the Royal Children’s Hospital to the Human Rights Commission National Enquiry 2014 ‘detention denies children, adolescents and families the basic environmental requirements for their health, development and their wellbeing…There is evidence that all forms of detention adversely affect parenting, family functioning and the mental health of children, adolescents, parents and families. There are considerable child protection risks…’ Severity of mental illness is related to duration of detention. Despair, self-harm, violence, physical and sexual abuse are predictable and well documented. The most recent files relating to abuse and degrading treatment on Nauru only add to the abundant evidence already available.
Australia’s current policies constitute denial of basic human rights, and are in breach of international conventions, including the right to seek asylum and the right to be free from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. They do not provide a fair, efficient and expeditious system for assessing refugee claims. The asylum seekers currently in detention, including those in offshore facilities, are under Australia’s care. Our control of these facilities has clearly failed to prevent abuse.
As doctors, we cannot condone or accept treatment of innocent and already traumatised people, particularly vulnerable women and children, which knowingly and deliberately causes harm.
We urge you to immediately close the camps on Nauru and Manus Island and bring all detainees to Australia for rapid processing and appropriate medical and psychological support. Those found to be refugees should be offered resettlement in Australia or other developed countries that offer to take them.
All children currently in detention in Australia should be released with their families into the community, while their claims are rapidly processed.
We request that you urgently investigate the alleged abuses in our offshore detention facilities, including the role of the government and it’s agents, by supporting a high level independent enquiry, preferably a royal commission.
We urge you to work constructively with elected representatives from all sides of politics, regional governments and experts including UNHCR, to develop more humane policies that prevent desperate people attempting to reach Australia by boat.
Above all, we request a change in attitude towards vulnerable human beings seeking asylum to one of compassion and respect. This can be lead from the highest level of government.
The list of signatories is to be released within a month.