Father tried to kill himself when son was cured of TB as doctors over-ruled by immigration


Imagine your child caught tuberculosis, a potentially deadly infection attacking their growing lungs. Now imagine they recover - but instead of relief, you feel nothing but devastation. Western Sydney paediatrician and University of Sydney professor David Isaacs told Fairfax how the father of one of his tiny patients, a toddler aged nearly three, tried to kill himself after learning his son's tuberculosis had been cured.


The reason? When Professor Isaacs delivered the good news, he also had to deliver the bad: the family were asylum seekers and the man, his wife and son would likely now be woken in the middle of the night, the parents handcuffed and the family sent to Nauru.


Professor Isaacs described a topsy-turvy system where parents and doctors feel almost relieved when children get sick, and when doctors' decisions about what is best for their patients are overruled by immigration officials.

"If they want to get medical advice they will get it from International Health and Medical Services… which has a very lucrative contract with the government - it's worth millions," he said. "Then surprise surprise they will agree with the government".

Doctors are particularly concerned about sending children to Nauru, where the Human Rights Commission found there had been 33 reports of sexual assault and more than a 100 cases of self harm in just over one year.

On Monday morning Australian Medical Association president and paediatric brain surgeon Brian Owler​ said it was well-documented that keeping children in detention was a form of "systematic" physical and psychological abuse "sanctioned by the government".

Labor immigration spokesman Richard Marles​ said he would introduce a private members bill requiring immigration officials to report all suspected child abuse in offshore and onshore detention camps.

It was revealed at the weekend that doctors at Melbourne's Royal Children's Hospital refused to discharge an asylum seeker and her child to immigration detention.

Professor Isaacs said most asylum seeker children were outpatients, meaning doctors could not refuse to discharge them.

In the case of this toddler, now three years old, he wrote to Immigration Minister Peter Dutton three times begging that the family not be returned while his parents' mental health was so unstable. He told the father the truth only because he was worried about how he would cope when he was suddenly transported away.

The boy has now developed obstructive sleep apnoea and needs his tonsils out, a procedure for which there is a significant waiting list in NSW - meaning he has been given a reprieve for now.

Professor Isaacs said doctors are forced to treat vulnerable child patients being held in Villawood detention centre in Sydney in the presence of security guards, undermining their care and humiliating them.

"They are being treated like they are violent criminals - it happens all the time and it's demeaning and humiliating," he said.

Under Mr Marle's private members bill, immigration officials will be required to report all suspected child abuse in offshore and onshore detention camps.

If a worker reasonably believed a minor had suffered a reportable assault in detention, they must alert the Australian Border Force Commissioner within 24 hours. The bill would also make it an offence for a worker not to report an assault.

"There should be absolutely no doubt that staff, including medical contractors working in these facilities not only have the freedom to report abuse, but have a legal obligation to do so," Mr Marles said.

"Australian funded facilities … need to be safe, humane centres where people can have their claims processed without fear of violence or assault".

He said Mr Dutton's response to doctors' concerns raised over the weekend was "cringe-worthy and callous", adding detention was "no place for children" and the government should speed up the processing of refugee claims.

In February Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said "one child in detention is one child too many". However as prime minister, he is under pressure from right-wing elements of the party not to relax the party's hardline border protection stance.The government says the number of children in detention has fallen dramatically since the Coalition took office.

Also on Monday Greens' immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young said her party would introduce a bill to ban the detention of children in Australian-run centres.

"In the last few days we've seen thousands of people rallying in the streets and doctors refusing to send refugee children back to detention," she said.

"Members of Parliament often say they don't want children behind bars, but talk is cheap. We need to change the law to ensure that children are protected and not detained."

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton did not respond before deadline.

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Vulnerable children are locked up in Australia’s onshore and offshore detention centres with no idea when they will be freed.


It doesn’t have to be this way. The government can set these children free to grow and flourish. But they won’t, unless ordinary people put the pressure on.   


You can call on Malcolm Turnbull to immediately free all children and their families from immigration detention.


Every day there are deeply concerning reports of children suffering with severe physical, mental, emotional and social disturbances as a result of being locked up in detention.


Every day these children are locked up is another day of harm.


Just in the last few days thousands of people have rallied in the streets and doctors and nurses are refusing to send refugee children back to detention.


The movement calling for change is growing stronger.


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