21 Feb – Hundreds of protesters have held a week-long vigil turned blockade, outside a hospital treating a baby girl facing deportation to an offshore immigration detention camp, blocking exits amid reports she would be removed imminently.
Doctors at the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital in Brisbane have refused to release the girl following treatment for serious burns, adding to pressure on the government over its tough asylum seekers policy.
The one-year-old girl, known only as Asha, and her parents face being returned to a camp on the tiny South Pacific island of Nauru, about 3,000 km (1,800 miles) northeast of Australia. The detention centre, which houses more than 500 people, has been widely criticised for harsh conditions and reports of systemic child abuse.
Following numerous statements this week declaringing the government would deprot the child and not be “blackmailed”, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton announced Sunday that Asha and her parents could remain in Brisbane under “community detention,” a policy that allows asylum-seekers to move about freely in the community.
But Dutton warned the family could still be sent back to Nauru at any time, saying “it is an important message to send” to the detainees in Nauru that “there is a continuation of the government’s policy.”
Earlier this month, the High Court rejected a legal test case that challenged Australia’s right to deport 267 refugee children and their families who had been brought to Australia from Nauru for medical treatment.
Doctors had refused to release her until a “suitable home environment is identified.”
However, refugee advocates said British security firm Serco , which runs detention centres in Australia had a heightened presence at the hospital and called for people to join the peaceful blockade.
Asha was flown from Nauru to Brisbane for treatment for serious burns last month.
The Australian government and its policy of sending asylum seekers who attempt to reach the country by boat to camps on Nauru or on Manus island in Papua New Guinea. They are not offered resettlement in Australia.
The government says the policies are necessary to stop asylum seekers drowning aboard the unseaworthy vessels used by people smugglers to ship them from Indonesia to Australia. (Reporting By Jane Wardell; Editing by Marguerita Choy)