Vanessa Carnegie, an intensive care doctor and a member of Doctors for Refugees, gave the following speech to a July 31 action calling for Priya, Nades and their family to be returned to Biloela from Christmas Island detention centre where the Tamil family has been held for the past 10 months. Priya was recently transferred to a Perth Hospital for medical tests unavailable on Christmas Island at the end of July and returned to detention several days later. The action was organised by the Refugee Rights Action Network WA.
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I am a healthcare professional with a long passion for refugee advocacy. I have worked with Doctors for Refugees, as well as numerous other asylum seeker advocacy groups.
I stand here today to represent all my healthcare colleagues in the community who are distressed about the current treatment of asylum seekers who come to Australia, seeking safety and compassion.
We support the calls from all of you for compassion and fairness in the treatment of Priya, her family and all asylum seekers.
There are numerous ethical, economic and practical reasons to bring Priya and her family back and to end off shore detention of asylum seekers.
However, I’d like to talk about some of the medical reasons why we should put an end to this practice and bring Priya and her family home.
The medical community has long acknowledged that any period of detention is extremely harmful to human beings.
These are the reasons why:
1. The standard of healthcare provided in an offshore setting cannot be guaranteed to be equivalent to that which we would expect to be provided to people in the Australian community. We have a legal and moral duty of care to our fellow human beings and it is concerning, as a doctor, that I cannot be assured that patients in offshore detention will be receiving a high standard of medical care;
2. There is a significant lack of speciality medical services in offshore detention and this can lead to significant delays in the treatment and diagnosis of numerous diseases. It can also lead to significant deteriorations in the chronic health conditions of many patients;
3. Geographically, offshore detention is just too far away! If a patient has a medical emergency, there are often undue delays that can be a barrier to essential, life-saving treatment. This can have disastrous, sometimes fatal consequences. I frequently think of the young Hamid Khazaei who died needlessly of a treatable infection.
4. The very nature of detention itself causes and perpetuates serious mental health problems and trauma in human beings. To compound this, there is very little psychiatric and psychological support for these patients, leading to self-harm and suicide;
5. The detention of children is extremely harmful to their health and mental well-being. I am extremely concerned that Priya’s two young girls will potentially suffer extreme psychological harm as a result of prolonged detention on Christmas Island.
The medical community has long acknowledged that any period of detention is extremely harmful to children. They suffer not only from the trauma of being held against their will away from their communities, but also from the disruption of normal family life, education and development. These poor girls will not have the chance to experience childhood as predictable, meaningful and safe. They may not even be able to understand why they have been imprisoned.
Priya has only just been discharged from Fiona Stanley Hospital where she was receiving medical attention for a number of health concerns. I have grave concerns that her ongoing health needs will not be met adequately on Christmas Island and that she is at risk of potential significant deterioration in her health. She is a young woman, a mother and a wife, and also a much loved member of her community in Queensland.
I strongly urge everyone to continue their calls for compassion and fairness and to return Priya and her family to Australia where Priya can continue to receive the medical attention she needs.