October 18, 2013 | the global mail
More pregnant asylum seekers are being sent from Australian immigration facilities to Nauru as the government’s media blackout on the “detainees” continues.
The Australian government is rounding up pregnant women in immigration detention facilities and sending them to Nauru, according to Global Mail sources.
It is understood that at least seven pregnant women were transferred to the Pacific island on October 18, with more due for relocation the day after.
Sources say that most of the women transferred today are Vietnamese. It is unclear whether their families travelled with them.
The Global Mail also understands that the Department of Immigration and Border Protection is collecting the names of all pregnant women in immigration facilities across Australia. Immigration minister Scott Morrison did not reply to phone calls and emails asking for details and explanation; the department referred all questions to the minister.
The news follows revelations earlier this week in Guardian Australia that two pregnant women are already being held in immigration detention on the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru.
“Unless we’re putting massive amounts of money into building up health and child health services and community health services in places like Nauru and Manus [Island], then we are accepting a high level of death in children.”
Those two women – of Iranian and Rohingya descent – reportedly have high-risk pregnancies. Names and other details of the pregnant Vietnamese asylum seekers transferred on Friday are yet to emerge.
The minister says Nauruan obstetrics staff oversee more than 300 deliveries a year on the hospital’s two delivery beds. Sections of Nauru’s main hospital were destroyed by fire in August, though the maternity section was unscathed. “I should also stress … the midwives are probably the most experience you’ve probably found working under those conditions,” Morrison said in the October 11 briefing on Operation Sovereign Borders.
However, medical experts point to a UNICEF report citing Nauru’s exceptionally high infant, child and maternal mortality rates.
Monash University professor of psychology and psychiatry Louise Newman says the most telling statistics are the 2011 United Nations figures showing that Nauru’s mortality rate for children under five is 40 times that of Australia’s.
“The minister is saying it is a suitable environment for childbirth, but you also have to consider the conditions children grow up in,” she says. “It’s local issues, diseases. I’m not saying there are no services there, there are obviously some services there [but] we’re thinking about sending babies and children there and these are published figures.
“Unless we’re putting massive amounts of money into building up health and child health services and community health services in places like Nauru and Manus [Island], then we are accepting a high level of death in children,” Newman says.
Australia’s immigration detention health services are run by International Health and Medical Service (IHMS). In a written comment to The Global Mail, the service confirmed that as well as providing “extended primary care and mental health services”, in offshore processing centres it also provided “emergency care and [anti-malaria] vector control”.
Decisions about who is transferred offshore, though, are handled by the immigration department itself and its new “no exemptions” policy – under which asylum seekers who arrive by boat are sent to offshore detention while their claims are assessed – leaves no wiggle room for the pregnant, the sick or anyone else.
Professor Newman, who has advised the federal government on asylum-seeker health issues, says: “Presumably there are internal discussions which I’m not privy to about what might constitute an exemption, but the minister is saying there are none.
“As far as I understand, uncomplicated pregnancy is not seen as a condition that requires people to stay on the mainland, that is a governmental decision.”
Perth-based Vietnamese community leader Nam Pham says the government is trying to “clear the backlog”.
“There is no mandate for this, this is not what people voted for,” he says.
The Global Mail has also obtained an email, distributed to Department of Immigration, IHMS and staff from the detention services provider SERCO, outlining Minister Morrison’s expectations about the terminology to be used when referring to asylum seekers.
The term “client”, favoured by the previous government, has been ditched in favour of “detainees” and a handful of other terms. The email explains that the minister now wants people held in offshore facilities to be referred to as “transferees”.
The email did not include a label for babies born to the women who in the space of a day were ‘clients’, ‘detainees’ and now ‘transferees’.