SYDNEY • An Australian hospital has refused to return an asylum- seeker baby to detention in Nauru, as momentum against offshore Pacific camps for processing refugees builds across the country.
Under the government's tough immigration policy, asylum-seekers who try to reach Australia by boat are sent to detention camps in the Pacific island nations of Papua New Guinea and Nauru. They are also blocked from being resettled in Australia even if they are found to be refugees.
The hospital's move came as state governments, churches and activists stepped up their efforts to stop the return of 267 refugees to Nauru following a High Court ruling.
Yesterday, campaigners from ActionAid, Amnesty International, GetUp! and Greenpeace unfurled a #LetThemStay banner in Sydney's iconic harbour. They were calling for the asylum-seekers, who are set to be deported after being brought to Australia for medical treatment, to be allowed to stay.
The #LetThemStay campaign, which has been trending on Twitter, has also seen hundreds of people maintaining a vigil - in its third day yesterday - outside the Brisbane hospital where the baby is being cared for.
NO PLACE TO GROW UP
We have... overwhelming evidence over many years now that detention does terrible harm to babies and children, particularly to their mental health and also physical health.
MR RICHARD KIDD, co-founder of Doctors For Refugees.
The 12-month-old infant, who is called Asha and is the child of Nepalese asylum-seekers, was brought to the eastern city of Brisbane for treatment in late January after being scalded by hot water at the remote Nauru facility.
Following the High Court's ruling earlier this month in favour of the government's policies, Asha and 36 other babies born in Australia are among the asylum-seekers facing removal.
But a spokesman for Brisbane's Lady Cilento Children's Hospital said Asha "will be discharged only after a suitable home environment is identified". That stance was supported by Queensland Health Minister Cameron Dick, who said in a statement yesterday that he "strongly supports doctors in our hospitals to make the right clinical decisions".
"Doctors must expect to advocate for their patients," said Doctors For Refugees co-founder Richard Kidd, who has joined the vigil outside the hospital. "We have... overwhelming evidence over many years now that detention does terrible harm to babies and children, particularly to their mental health and also physical health."
Australian church leaders this month vowed to defy the federal government, offering sanctuary to the asylum-seekers.
Several state government premiers have said they would help those facing deportation settle in their communities if they were allowed to stay.
There have also been numerous community-led protests. Thirty-seven cots - one for each of the Australia-born babies - were set up on Sydney's Bondi Beach, while two campaigners abseiled from a Melbourne bridge with a "Let Them Stay" banner.
Canberra has long defended its policy, saying it has prevented the deaths of asylum-seekers at sea and secured its borders.
But rights groups have criticised the measures and detention conditions. The government-funded Human Rights Commission has also found that children in the Nauru centre had high levels of mental illness.