12 Nov 2013

Concern at plans to return asylum seeker to Nauru camp after giving birth

5:33 pm on 12 November 2013

The Refugee Action Coalition says the Australian Immigration Department is still insisting it will return an asylum-seeking woman who just gave birth, to Nauru when it is appropriate.

The Rohingyan woman was moved from the Nauru detention centre to Australia to give birth, and says she fears for the wellbeing of her children if she is sent back to Nauru.

Leilani Momoisea reports:

The Rohingyan woman also has two other children, four and seven years old, who, along with her husband, have been detained in Nauru, but have been allowed to stay with her while she is in Australia. The Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, says she was transferred from Nauru to Australia, not just because of the fact she was pregnant, but because there were also other health complications that had to be addressed. The Refugee Action Coalition's Ian Rintoul, who has visited the woman and her family in Brisbane, says the baby appears to be having breathing difficulties and is currently in a special care unit. He says he doesn't know how the Immigration Department can think a newborn baby can be cared for in the Nauru detention centre.

"IAN RINTOUL: It's very clear that there are no acceptable facilities on Nauru to care for a newborn baby in his condition. Hopefully, they're not considering sending them back any time soon. Nonetheless, they have been quite insistent that that is what they intend to do."

The office of the Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, has not responded to questions. However, last week, Mr Morrison said during his weekly media briefing that all appropriate care is provided for people who are located in the offshore processing facilities. He said that if and when the mother is in a fit state to return to Nauru, then that's what will occur. But Sophie Peer says there is no appropriate time for that to happen.

SOPHIE PEER: We understand that that usually means something around the six-week mark, when the baby is six weeks old, that's just completely unreasonable, in no sense can that be appropriate. We imagine that there will be medical advice to say that. There will be recommendations from all sorts of advocates, not just from a refugee and asylum perspective, but from a health and development, and mental health perspective, as well.

A professor of midwifery and the spokesperson for the Australian College of Midwives, Hannah Dahlen, says more needs to be considered than just a mother's physical health.

HANNAH DAHLEN: We need to think about their mental health wellbeing, we need to think about how anxious they are, how well supported they are. We know that pregnancy and the early weeks and months giving birth are critical in the development of a baby's brain and the mothers anxiety and her connection with that baby are critical in making that development normal.

Ian Rintoul says the whole incident has demonstrated that Nauru is not any kind of place to be sending anyone, especially not pregnant women and families.

IAN RINTOUL: I mean, it breaks your heart, listening to them, about lining up for up to an hour in the hot sun for meals. They walk almost ten minutes walk to go to the one place where they can get a shower, that there's no bottled water, they're given a block of ice that's meant to provide for their drinking and washing facilities, how can you care for a four year old in those circumstances, how can you care for a newborn baby, in those circumstances.

He says the mother, her husband and two children are being kept in the Brisbane Immigration transit detention centre, while the baby remains in hospital.