Sydney (dpa) – Doctors treating migrant children in hospital are refusing to release them to Australian immigration officials who would return them to detention centres, local media reported Sunday.
Staff at Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital said they could not allow children to be returned to detention centres where their health and well-being is threatened, the Sunday Herald-Sun newspaper said.
The hospital has been caring for dozens of young patients who were brought in for treatment from centres where they were held with their families.
For more than a month, hospital staff have rejected demands from immigration officials to release one child, and the refusal has now extended to more children in their care.
The government insists on returning the children to detention.
A total 104 children aged from newborns to 18 years old are locked up in immigration detention centres in Australia.
Another 93 children are kept the Australian-run detention centre on the remote Pacific island of Nauru.
Medical staff also expressed outrage that immigration guards were placed at the entrance to some patients’ rooms in the hospital.
Under harsh new government laws, the medical staff risk being jailed for up to two years for speaking out against conditions in immigration detention centres.
Nevertheless, more than 400 medical staff openly defied the government and posed for a group photo for the newspaper outside the hospital.
Hospital in a statement given to the broadcaster ABC on Sunday that doctors were treating children who had spent more than half their lives in detention centres.
“In children from detention, our team see children with nightmares, bed wetting, and severe behaviour problems, children from detention develop anxiety and depression,” paediatrician Paul Monagle said.
“It’s become so common that it’s almost normal in children from detention to have these symptoms.”
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said government policy would not change as it had stopped the flow of people making the dangerous journey trying to reach Australia by boat.
“I understand the concern of doctors, but the defence and border force staff on our vessels who were pulling dead kids out of the water don’t want the boats to restart,” Mr Dutton told the Sunday Herald-Sun.