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Hundreds of people marched through the city at the weekend to raise awareness about the harmful effects of Australia’s ongoing policy of mandatory, offshore detention on refugee health.
The Australian Medical Students’ Association (AMSA) hosted the march which saw more than 300 students, doctors, health professionals, and refugee advocacy groups.
Carrie Lee, University of New South Wales medical student and active member of AMSA expressed her concerns about the current policy, and said the lives of vulnerable men, women and children were in jeopardy if the lack of adequate access to medical care continued.
“It is infuriating and it is absurd that we have to come to this point where we have to march to say the obvious, that detention harms health,” Ms Lee said.
“As medical students, we cannot afford to wait for the government to wake up and remember their conscience because they won’t.”
Among the many speakers on the day was Dr. Nadine Shema, Refugee Advocate and Co-founder of Great Lakes Agency for Peace and Development.
She came to Australia in 2010 as a refugee from Rwanda and in 2012 - her first year out of detention - began helping families from refugee and migrant backgrounds to resettle in rural and regional Australian country towns.
“They [refugees] are human beings, not numbers, not objects,” Dr Shema said.
“It shouldn’t be about how they came to Australia or what means of transport they used to come to Australia, but mostly it will be because of why they came to Australia.”
While sick refugees and asylum seekers are sent to Port Moresby Hospital in Papua New Guinea for medical treatment, there have been reports of insufficient and negligent care.
A refugee in Port Moresby hospital has been on hunger strike for 20 days. He has high blood pressure and diabetes and the doctors have forced him to eat by getting authority from the court.#Manus pic.twitter.com/9CaPG4wMaX— Behrouz Boochani (@BehrouzBoochani) January 26, 2018
International Health and Medical Services (IHMS) data from 2015 shows that 12.6% of the more than 2000 held in offshore detention were in severe mental distress.
While current mental health reports are yet to be released, numbers of offshore asylum seekers and refugees remain unchanged.
Dr Peter Young, Psychiatrist and former Director of Mental Health Services on Manus and Nauru said these mental illnesses only worsen the longer they are forcibly detained.
“We have a system of detention which is deliberately designed to cause harm. It’s specifically constructed to create in people a sense of hopelessness and helplessness which leads to mental illness,” Dr Young said.
Demonstrators say no to offshore detention policies on refugee health. (Photo: Chelsea Hetherington)
Participants called on the Federal Government to allow Australian medical personnel to independently assess the refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru.
This comes after failed attempts in December 2017 to force the Turnbull government to provide immediate care and treatment to all asylum seekers.
These appeals were made repeatedly by the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and Colleges of General Practitioners, Physicians and Psychiatrists (RACGP, RACP and RANZP), and were rejected.