maandag, februari 08, 2016
Asylum seekers awaiting return to Nauru suffering from cancer and terminal illnesses
Some of the 267 asylum seekers waiting to be flown back to Nauru are suffering from cancer and terminal illnesses, and the first returns could potentially be made "within days", Immigration Department chief Michael Pezzullo says.
In a Senate estimates hearing on Monday, department officials also denied that one of the people awaiting return was a 5-year-old child that had been raped, saying the child involved in the incident was more than twice that age and suffered only "skin to skin contact" with an older detainee child.
The Turnbull government is under intense pressure to allow the group, including 37 babies, to remain in Australia. A series of rallies in major cities across the nation on Monday will express solidarity with the asylum seekers.
In explosive revelations to the hearing, the government's top medical adviser on immigration detention, John Brayley, admitted keeping children behind wire has a "deleterious" effect on their mental health and "wherever possible children should not be in detention".
Mr Pezzullo told the senators his department would take advice from doctors over when to return the group, which largely comprises those who came to Australia for medical treatment and their families. They included people with illnesses such as cancer, and some conditions that were "terminal".
"Depending on how their care is going … we will work through those in a staged fashion," he said, adding decisions would not be made in a "bulk determination".
Medical advice indicated some people would require more than six months treatment while others would be fit to travel "soon ... it's possible that some people are ready to go within days".
A High Court ruling last week that the offshore detention regime was lawful meant the department was "on very clear legal footing", but saying "you all have to leave in one planeload" was not appropriate or sensible, he said.
He said as medical facilities at Nauru improved "there will be less and less requirement to repatriate people to Australia" for treatment, adding that a $26 million upgrade to Nauru hospital would include including cancer, pediatric and obstetrics services.Later, Mr Pezzullo told the hearing that "everyone will go back in due course" and that the department, not doctors, had the final say on who should be returned.