October 04, 2013
Pregnant asylum seekers will give birth in Nauru for the first time since 2004 under the Abbott government’s ”no exemptions” approach to offshore detention.
Fairfax Media has learned a woman carrying twins is one of the first asylum seekers since the Howard era to face the prospect of giving birth in the tiny island republic.
If you did this to women in this country there would be uproar.
Refugee advocates are seeking details about the woman, who is said to be 22 weeks’ pregnant and arrived on Nauru last Friday, according to sources on the island.
Of six pregnant women transferred from detention on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea by Labor earlier in the year, three miscarried.
A section of Nauru’s only hospital burned down in August and medical experts and campaigners say there is no proof that conditions for mothers and babies are adequate in an environment where detainees live in tents in temperatures of 40 degrees celsius and above.
”This is a dangerous shift in policy,” said Kon Karapanagiotidis of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. ”[Immigration Minister] Scott Morrison is saying there is now no exceptions. It’s a dereliction of his duty of care as minister.
”If you did this to women in this country there would be uproar. The minister is saying people will be sent offshore without exception just to fulfil a political slogan.”
In July, Fairfax revealed confidential advice to government from International Health and Medical Services, which operates throughout the detention network, that pregnant women on Manus had an increased risk of death, stillbirth, miscarriage and low birth weight babies.
In PNG the infant mortality rate for children under five is 60 in 1000 and in Nauru it is 37. By comparison, just five of every 1000 children die in Australia.
Professor Nick Talley, president-elect of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, said: ”It might sound just like numbers but these are dramatically different situations, really significant.”
Professor Talley said there was also ”serious concern” among medicos about the government’s accelerated health checks before boat arrivals were dispatched from Christmas Island to Manus and Nauru.
The 48-hour turnarounds now in place had effectively ended screening for Hepatitis B, typhoid, tuberculosis, HIV and syphilis, he said.
”Those tests are not going to come back within 48 hours. That means these people won’t have been screened.”
The 12-member Detention Health Advisory Group, of which the college is a part, has not been consulted by the Coalition government on changes.
Mr Morrison, who visited Manus Island last week, also plans to travel to Nauru next week – his first trip to the island nation as Minister.
The Immigration Minister would not provide any detail of any planning for births on Nauru but in a statement did not resile from sending pregnant women there.
”The government’s policy is to provide no exemptions for offshore processing for those who have arrived illegally by boat,” he said.
”The previous government sent very few people to Manus Island and Nauru for offshore processing because they didn’t really believe in it. The difference between the Coalition government and Labor is that the Coalition is actually implementing offshore processing properly.”
Mr Morrison’s office rebuffed calls from the former immigration minister Tony Burke to release advice from the health advisory group about the health screening process for asylum seekers.
Mr Burke said he was told repeatedly that it would take a minimum of 10 to 12 days to all the necessary health checks.