Australian hospital refuses to release baby for detention on Nauru

Activists with their toddlers holding signs and pictures of babies of asylum seekers who will be deported to Nauru, in Canberra, on Feb 3.
Activists with their toddlers holding signs and pictures of babies of asylum seekers who will be deported to Nauru, in Canberra, on Feb 3. PHOTO: EPA

PERTH, Australia (REUTERS)- Doctors at an Australian hospital are refusing to release a baby girl facing repatriation to an offshore immigration detention camp, after she was treated for serious burns, adding to pressure on the government over its tough asylum seekers policy.

The one-year-old girl will not be released from Lady Cilento Children's Hospital in the city of Brisbane until a "suitable home environment is identified", a hospital spokesman told Reuters on Saturday (Feb 13).

The girl and her parents face being returned to a camp on the tiny South Pacific island of Nauru, about 3,000km 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.

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.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said the asylum seekers will be treated "with compassion" and deportation will be decided "on a case by case basis." Immigration Minister Peter Dutton's office did not respond to a request for comment on the hospitals' stance on Saturday (Feb 13).

Protesters opposed to the detention of asylum seekers gathered outside the hospital late on Friday (Feb 12) in support of medical staff and called for the closure of the offshore detention centres. Further protests were planned for Saturday (Feb 13).

The baby girl was flown from Nauru to Brisbane for treatment for serious burns last month. "All decisions relating to a patient's treatment and discharge are made by qualified clinical staff, based on a thorough assessment of the individual patient's clinical condition and circumstances," the hospital said in a statement.

The decision to only release the child to a suitable environment "is the case with every child who presents at the hospital," it said.

The hospital stance, although not political, adds to pressure on 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.

The number of asylum seekers trying to reach Australia are small in comparison with those arriving in Europe, but border security is a hot-button political issue in Australia which is scheduled to hold a national elections later in the year.