The Bring Back Asha campaign continues to grow. A snap rally at Sydney Town Hall on June 30, hosted by the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, had 300 demonstrators making a sea of white balloons and placards, listening to speakers condemning the return of baby Asha (not her real name) and her parents to the immigration detention centre on Nauru.
Asha is a five-month-old baby who was forcibly transported from Melbourne, where she was born, to Nauru, with her parents. She has since been joined by three other babies born in Australia to asylum seeker parents after the arbitrary cut-off date of December 4.
Asha’s mother was unable to breastfeed after the trauma of forced removal, and had to feed Asha water and rice cereal as formula milk she was able to digest was not available.
The first speaker, Dr Isaacs, a paediatrician who has worked on Nauru, described the conditions in the camp as “horrifying”. Children and adults live in tents that are hot and humid during the day and with guards who walk in at will, without warning. Inmates were referred to by their boat number, because, a guard explained, “they are all called Mohammed”.
Isaacs cited evidence that detention caused mental health problems that become more serious the longer people are locked up. He quoted the UN Special Rapporteur who visited the camp, as saying the conditions were “tantamount to torture”.
Isaacs condemned the incoming legislation that would make whistleblowers liable to a two-year prison sentence for exposing conditions on Nauru, Manus Island or mainland detention centres.
Dr Caroline Gribble, an infant feeding specialist, explained that disrupted feeding was not unusual after trauma such as forced removal. Gribble told the rally that infant mortality on Nauru was ten times what it is in Australia.
The third speaker was Reverend Brown, former Uniting Church moderator. He quoted psychiatrist and former Australian of the Year, Professor Patrick McGorry as saying detention centres are “factories for producing mental illness”. He criticised the relative silence when the Moss Review cited 43 cases of sexual abuse and 207 of self-harm in Nauru detention centre.
[Stephen Langford is a member of the Socialist Alliance. The Socialist Alliance policy is that there should be no detention of asylum seekers of any age, onshore or offshore.]