Refugee risks heart attack to stay with son

February 22, 2018
Fatemeh is prepared to die on Nauru to avoid being seperated from her son.

An Iranian refugee held on Nauru, who has been diagnosed as being at “imminent risk of … heart attack or sudden death”, is refusing to leave Nauru to go to a hospital that can treat her because the Australian Border Force (ABF) has refused her young son permission to go with her.

Doctors have requested five times since September 2016 that Fatemeh be moved to a hospital off Nauru for heart checks that cannot be performed on the island. But she is refusing to leave her 16-year-old son unaccompanied on the island.

“She is at extremely high and imminent risk of having a catastrophic cardiac event such as heart attack, or sudden death due to arrhythmias,” the latest doctor’s report, written on January 20, said.

Fatemeh fled Iran following a violent family breakdown and she and her son, then aged 12, arrived by boat at Christmas Island in late July 2013, just days after the Kevin Rudd Labor government reinstituted offshore processing. They were among the first sent to Nauru in 2013 and their refugee status was recognised last year. They live in a tent inside the regional processing centre.

Dr Nick Martin, a former senior medical officer on Nauru, who treated Fatemeh on the island, told the Guardian: “For the Australian Border Force to use her son as a way of denying treatment is breathtakingly cynical.”

ABF confirmed to Fatemeh in mid-September it had approved her treatment overseas, but she would not be allowed to take her son with her.

“In line with current policy and as previously explained, your son will need to remain in Nauru while you are temporarily transferred to Port Moresby,” it said. “You will need to nominate a temporary care person for your son and then arrangements can be arranged for your temporary transfer to Port Moresby.”

But Fatemeh said she could not leave her son alone on the island, out of fear for his physical and mental wellbeing. Unaccompanied minors have faced harassment, persecution and violent attacks on Nauru. Doctors are particularly concerned about the mental health of children living inside the regional processing centre.

Sources on Nauru told the Guardian it is “unofficial policy to use family separation to encourage refugees to return to Nauru after medical treatment overseas”. At least four fathers on Nauru have never seen their Australian-born children and face potentially permanent separation from their wives and children.

Fatemeh said she had been judged to have “refused treatment” because she would not leave Nauru without her son. “Death and separation from my son is the same for me,” Fatemeh told Guardian. “I would not go anywhere without him. All we have is each other.

“How can I control my anxiety when my son hasn’t gone to school in three years? I live in a small, dark tent like a solitary cell – you can’t even breathe in it. Whenever the Red Cross comes here, my tent is an example to depict the dire tent situation.

“I have not been able to bring the safety and tranquillity I sought for my son and my life. I feel worthless, defenceless. My only dream is for my son to go to school, and for us to be free from the terror of assault and torture for the rest of our lives.”

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