1 Nov 2018

Nauru evacuation could come too late - doctor

5:22 pm on 1 November 2018

The Australian government's end of year deadline for evacuating all refugee children from Nauru could be too late, a leading paediatrician says.

And the government may not bring the children to Australia of its own volition, refugee advocates say.

Refugee children on Nauru

Refugee children on Nauru Photo: Kids off Nauru

A report in the Australian newspaper was confirmed by the former attorney general and now High Commissioner to Britain George Brandis, who said he expected there would be no refugee children left on Nauru by the end of the year.

With more than 200 children already evacuated, 38 remain on the island.

Paediatrician Paul Bauert, who is a member of the Australian Medical Associations' federal council, said he would welcome their evacuation but feared the end of year deadline could be too late.

Paul Bauert

Paul Bauert Photo: Twitter / Paul Bauert

"Particularly [for] those children that are left, when they're seeing some other children being removed and brought to Australia, their level of hopelessness will increase," Dr Bauert said.

"All doctors are really concerned that that level will get to the stage where suicidal ideation will become real, that we will either lose children through suicide or lose children through the Resignation Syndrome, where they become so profoundly depressed that they would rather be dead than continue the mental pain that they have at the moment."

With the Australian government set to lose its one seat majority, it has come under pressure from the opposition, independent MPs and three of its own backbenchers to evacuate the children from their five year exile on Nauru, where one in four are reported to be suicidal.

The prime minister Scott Morrison told reporters yesterday the government was quietly making it happen.

"In the last nine weeks, the number of children on Nauru has halved. So we've been getting about this quietly. We haven't been showboating about it. We've just been getting on, dealing with these issues in the appropriate way in accordance with our policies, policies that not only have reduced the number of children on Nauru, but have insured that no children are going to Nauru," Mr Morrison said.

But with the vast majority of the children evacuated by court order or the threat of legal intervention, refugee advocates have accused Mr Morrison of lying by omission.

Lawyers and doctors working pro bono have been assisted at court by the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, whose chief executive, Kon Karapanagiotidis, said the prime minister was trying to take credit for evacuations his government had fought tooth and nail to prevent.

Kon Karapanagiotidis

Kon Karapanagiotidis Photo: ASRC - Tim Turner

"More than 200 kids that were brought here to get critical medical care were all brought here by legal intervention or court order," Mr Karapanagiotidis said

"That is, for five years bar the last fortnight, it required us going to court to force the government to bring kids that were suicidal, kids that were at risk of dying as young as six-months of age," he said.

"It's only been the last two weeks that the government has started to bring people without the threat of legal action. So yes, the government is very much trying to take credit... so our prime minister in Australia, Scott Morrison, continues to lie to the Australian public."

Legal action would continue to force the evacuation of the remaining children and could be extended to about 90 families on Nauru, some of whom with vulnerable adolescents who were detained as kids, the advocate said.

Dr Bauert said he would be following a case in Australia's Federal Court in Melbourne.

"The government is going to the court tomorrow in an attempt to block some children that really do need to be removed today," he said.

"So although we're hearing that the government is moving towards getting these children removed voluntarily themselves, they're in fact, by their actions, fighting these removals."

The paediatrician said he also feared for the health of children brought to Australia, who were now being kept under guard at motels when they should be released into the community.

"The damage that's been done on the island will continue until the children feel that they are in a safe environment, that they're not looking at guards all the time, that they and their damaged families aren't continually being locked up."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs