Claims of inadequate care for pregnant asylum seekers

Advocates say pregnant asylum seekers sent to Darwin are receiving inadequate care and are lacking basic necessities such as nappies for their newborns. 

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

Advocates say pregnant asylum seekers are being sent to one of two holding centres in Darwin.

But they're concerned that although the women are being concentrated in the Northern Territory capital, appropriately-trained professionals are not being provided to meet the growing needs.

Among the claims are that women are guarded by detention centre staff while in labour and that they don't have access to essential supplies such as nappies after giving birth.

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Sophie Peer from the group, ChilOut, which campaigns for the release of children from detention centres, says there's something of a baby boom being experienced in Australia's northern and overseas detention centres.

"So we've got women giving birth every day at the moment and about 50 more expectant mums and we presume many more expectant mums to come. Either those on Christmas Island or those perhaps from Nauru and Manus in coming months and those who are yet to still arrive by boat."

Sophie Peer says she has concerns about the level of care the women are receiving.

"Darwin in recent times has become something of a maternal health holding zone for asylum seekers. Both the Wickham Point facility and the Darwin Airport Lodge are full of women expecting babies in different stages of pregnancy. Now look, we're very pleased that these women have been moved off Christmas Island. That is absolutely not the place for them to be and their families are being moved with them, but being crammed into inappropriate and overcrowded accommodation in Darwin is also not the answer."

Carl O'Connor, from the Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network, or DASSAN, shares ChilOut's concerns.

"These women are under great stress. They have the threat of being deported against their will to a remote detention centre on Manus Island whilst they're pregnant and after they've given birth to their child so they're under a great deal of stress while they're here and it's not helped by the fact that for example there's no specialist nurses for pregnant mothers at the detention centres here in Darwin asylum seekers have made other complaints in relation to, for example, Serco security guards being in the room while they give birth to their children."

Carl O'Connor says it can be difficult to get a clear picture of exactly what's happening behind the wire of the detention centres.

He says the Immigration Department is contradicting many claims being made by asylum seekers, but not allowing open access for their counter-claims to be checked.

"There really is an obligation on the government to be upfront with the Australian community as to what services are being provided to women in detention, pregnant women. It's not good enough just to bring these women here to Darwin, let them give birth and then ship them off away from public view, either to Christmas Island or to, of more concern, Nauru or Manus (Island). They need to be up front about what services are provided and what are the affects of detention on these women and children. Now these women give birth and then a day or two later they're put back into the detention centre and that can't be good for their newborn children."

The Australian Medical Association says it maintains an ongoing campaign that calls on the government to allow an independent team to go in and confirm or deny claims of mistreatment or a lack of resources in detention centres.

Federal president Steve Hambleton says the AMA has even offered to find experts for that team.

"We've had inspection groups before. We've got two groups and certainly the original group that was set up was severely constrained in its ability to speak out and talk to the press. It was reporting through the department so that was filtered. We say there should be a group that's independent of the department that can report to the parliament, and of course that means the people of Australia, so we can be absolutely confident that appropriate health care is being provided."

Dr Hambleton says there'll be concerns over the level of health care available in detention centres as long as the government fails to adopt a level of transparency that includes an independent body of review that's free to speak openly in the media.

"It is difficult to provide adequate levels of health care in various places. It's certainly difficult in remote areas. It's actually even more difficult when you talk about off shore and we do need to make sure we're providing adequate medical support and access to medical services for people who we take responsibility for. So I guess the AMA does have some concerns, particularly in those remote and off-shore locations."

ChilOout's Sophie Peer says maternal health specialists should be employed at detention centres.

She says if the Australian government is going to hold pregnant women in detention, then it needs to have midwives on hand to assist them.

Ms Peer says staff of the Serco company, who guard detainees, are not trained to deal with an impending pregnancy or the immediate needs of a newborn baby and its mother.

"In the longer term of course we ask that these women and families not be held in this situation. There's far more appropriate services in cities like Sydney and Melbourne that are very used to dealing with refugee health situations. Language is an issue, culture is an issue, services are an issue. Putting this burden on the public health system, having women in early stage labour being escorted by guards. I mean the whole situation needs to change if we're going to detain women at all and families, then we can be more pragmatic about it than this."

The office of the Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has not responded to SBS requests for a response to the claims.




Source World News Australia

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