SYDNEY • Australian doctors yesterday ramped up pressure on the government over its hardline policy on asylum-seekers, saying children they treat from immigration centres should not be returned to detention, where conditions could harm them.
Thousands of Australians rallied over the weekend urging Pacific island detention camps be shut, and medical professionals at the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne are reportedly refusing to discharge asylum-seeker patients if they are to be locked up again.
The stance was backed by the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP).
AMA president Brian Owler said children behind bars suffered psychologically and were not getting enough treatment given the harmful conditions they lived in.
"Doctors are put in a very difficult position," he told national radio. "We cannot send children back to an environment where they're going to be harmed."
RACP president Nick Talley added in a statement that "time and again, the Australian public has seen inquiries and heard excuses for the wrongs committed against children inside these detention centres".
"The health and well-being of children should never be open to compromise," he said.
All asylum-seekers coming by boat to Australia are now sent to camps in Papua New Guinea and Nauru and ultimately denied resettlement in Australia even if they are found to be genuine refugees.
Although the tough policy, which also includes turning back boats, has stopped frequent drownings, human rights organisations have slammed the prolonged detention, particularly of children, as a breach of Australia's legal obligations.
Dr Owler estimated some 200 children were being held, about half in Australia and the rest offshore. Government figures recently said 86 children were on Nauru.
Since ousting Mr Tony Abbott for the leadership of the Liberal Party and the government last month, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has admitted to concerns about the Pacific island camps. But he has given no indication of immediate policy changes.