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18 June 2015
The Australian Immigration Department has sent a five-month-old baby to an immigration detention centre on Nauru Island, despite being advised against doing so. The infant, known as Asha, was sent to the Australian-run centre earlier this month; concerns remain about the conditions at the facility.
Located in the Central Pacific, Nauru Island is home to approximately 10,000 people. The island's immigration detention facility was opened on 10 September, 2001 further to an aid agreement with the Australian government.
It's the Australian Immigration Department's first ever transfer of an infant born into detention, but more are planned according to the organisation, Save the Children, which was instructed to carry out a risk assessment of the facility in preparation for the transfer of 10 babies.
The risk assessment found that any transfer of infants to area 9, of regional processing centre 3 of the facility could be potentially catastrophic. Save the Children concluded its risk assessment by strongly recommending to the Australian government that no transfer of infants should take place.
Previous incident reports logged about the facility detail rat and mice infestations in area 9. However, the Australian Immigration Department said that the incident reports were a 'false representation' of the facility and demanded that the reports be changed.
However, reports detailing the condition of Baby Asha, who has been at the facility for over a week, show that the infant has developed gastroenteritis. It's understood that her parents are also being monitored due to health concerns, thus adding to Save the Children's concerns that the facility should not be receiving further transfers.
However, despite the warning, more asylum seeking mothers are being transferred from Nauru to Australia in order to give birth and afterwards are then sent back to Nauru's detention centre by the Australian Immigration Department. An immigration official said: "More infant transfers are imminent."
In the case of baby Asha, Sarah Hanson-Young – the Greens senator, has written to Peter Dutton, the Australian Immigration Minister, urging him to take action to have her removed from the Nauru facility.
Hanson-Young said: "It's tragic that Australian born, Asha, is now being held in detention at the Nauru facility. The trauma this family is facing is utterly cruel and the government should return them to Australia immediately."
"The parents of baby Asha are in a state of desperation, threatening suicide just so they can be returned to Australia. The country's asylum seeker detention policies are creating human tragedies."
"The family have been forcibly removed to Nauru and they are now waiting to receive medical treatment and specialised trauma counselling and their situation continues to grow even more uncertain."
Before their transfer to Nauru from Melbourne detention centre, the parents of baby Asha had to be restrained by having cable ties fixed around their hands. The scene at the Melbourne centre was highly volatile at the time of the removal and remains highly charged in the aftermath.
A staff member at the Melbourne detention centre said: "The removal of the infant [Asha] led to serious distress among other asylum seekers being held at the facility."
Those infants facing imminent transfer to Nauru were all born on the Australian mainland after December 4, 2014. The significance of this date is that it is a cut-off point; before this date based on a 'one-off deal' made between former immigration minister, Scott Morrison and crossbench senator, Ricky Muir 31 babies born into detention prior to this date, along with family members, could apply for Australian protection visas. This deal was made to enable the federal government to pass temporary protection visa legislation. Unfortunately, for babies born in detention after this date they, along with their families, are removed from Australia.
Protection in this instance refers to Australia's 1958 Immigration Act, which states that any refugee in the country illegally should be granted Australian protection if there is a well-founded fear of persecution in their home nation or because of war in their own country. Australia immigration will also undertake health, characther and security checks.
The Australian Immigration Department has so far not offered any comment on baby Asha's case.
Written by Daniel Waldron and Sanwar Ali
Edited by Sanwar Ali