26 Feb 2018

Nauru refugee begs NZ PM for help

3:39 pm on 26 February 2018

A refugee detained by Australia on Nauru has begged New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for help before its too late.

Australians protest against the Nauru detention centre

Australians protest against the Nauru detention centre Photo: AFP

The 55-year-old woman from Iran was told there's an imminent risk of her sudden death due to her heart condition, but she is refusing to leave the island for treatment without her mentally troubled son.

Australia approved her transfer but will not let her 16-year-old son accompany her.

After almost five years living in a mouldy tent in one of Nauru detention camps, Fatemah was asked if she had a message for Ms Ardern.

"Me and the other refugees who are here stretch their hands towards you," she said.

"We want New Zealand to help us because we really need your help. Please do something before it's too late for us."

The treatment Fatemah needs can not be performed in Nauru, according to a review of Fatemah's records by a professor at Sydney Medical School, Maria Fiatarone Singh.

"She is at extremely high and imminent risk of having a catastrophic cardiac event such as heart attack, or sudden death due to arrhythmias... consultant cardiologists ... have strongly recommended that she requires urgent additional cardiovascular evaluation that is not available in Nauru."

General practitioner Nick Martin was contracted by the Australian government through the company International Health and Medical Services to look after Fatemah and about 1000 other refugees on Nauru.

Fatemah refused to follow his advice to leave the Nauru for treatment, Dr Martin said.

"She was adamant, and I can't really blame her, that she would not leave her son behind. He's pretty much all she's got in this world right now, and she was so distressed at the idea of leaving him that she said 'no I can't'," he said.

"It's a real kind of Sophie's Choice for that mum. I think it's a pretty inhumane thing to do to any mum to force her to leave her child.

"She couldn't guarantee his safety when he'd be left on his own. Certainly Nauru is not the kind of place you'd want to leave an unaccompanied teenager who is pretty vulnerable."

Asylum seekers in Nauru

Asylum seekers in Nauru Photo: Refugee Action Coalition

Fatemah's psychological distress had increased markedly over time, in concert with the distress and poor condition of her son, who had become depressed, withdrawn, hostile, and had twice displayed suicidal gestures, Professor Fiatarone Singh stated.

Lawyers acting for refugees sent to Australia for medical treatment have been able to prevent the return of some of them to Nauru.

To counter this possibility, the Australian government was using Fatemah's son like a hostage, Dr Martin said.

"Very cynically... they're using her son as a pawn to make sure she does come back to Nauru after her treatment," he said.

"She doesn't care where she's treated, she wants her son to go with her. So if you could send her to any country, anywhere where the medical facilities are better than Nauru, he should go with her."

The United Nations says Nauru is not an appropriate place for refugees to be resettled but the Australian government is adamant that none of the refugees it detains there and on Manus Island will ever be settled in Australia.

Fatemah was asked if she had a message for the government of Australia.

"Me and my son, both of us are human beings. What have we done wrong to to be treated like animals?"

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