A group of brave doctors from the Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne made headlines a few weeks ago as they refused to send asylum seeker children they had been treating at the hospital back into detention centres. Some people may wonder why the action these doctors are taking is brave, when it is after all their duty to act in the best interests of their patients.
Well, the Federal Government has made it a crime for health care professionals to speak out about the atrocious conditions and abuses they witness in Australian detention centres. For speaking out, they risk facing up to two years imprisonment, so it is refreshing and inspiring to see more than 400 doctors from the hospital standing together despite this threat to demand the release of children from detention.
The mere fact that the government has imposed such a gag order on healthcare workers is a testament to the conditions faced by asylum seekers and refugees in our detention centres. Doctors have reported an array of physical and mental issues faced by those living in detention, which can only get worse the longer they stay, and the more crowded centres become.
It must be extremely frustrating for doctors to treat a patient whose ill health is likely a result of the detention centre environment, just to have to send them straight back into that same toxic environment. It would simply be unethical for doctors to send children back when they know it is not in their best interests. The Australian Medical Association has been asking the government for years to find an alternative to keeping children in detention and to acknowledge that detention is severely detrimental to a child’s physical and mental development.
The Royal Australian College of Physicians and Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessy both support the stance of the RCH doctors, with Ms. Hennessy stating that she is “extremely proud to be the health minister in a state where its doctors and nurses are putting the interest of children first.”
Adding to the outrage of the doctors at the RCH, immigration guards reportedly stand guard outside the rooms of asylum seeker children who are there to be treated 24 hours a day, as though these patients are inmates of a maximum security prison. It is so important to note here that these children are not criminals, and do not deserve to be treated as such. Their families have brought them on a long and dangerous journey, fleeing war and persecution in the hope of finding a safe future.
This is not criminal. This is desperate.
Despite all of the evidence which shows the detriment of keeping children locked away in detention, we shouldn’t hold our breath waiting for change. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has already said that while he supposedly understands the doctors’ concerns, he will not be in favour of changing any policies, stating that he does not want the boats to start again. The thing is, Mr. Dutton, the boats haven’t stopped, and desperate people haven’t stopped drowning at sea. You are just making them someone else’s problem, and that doesn’t help anyone.
‘Bravo’ to the brave healthcare workers from the Royal Children’s Hospital who are standing up for what is right.