Concerns over pregnant asylum seekers

(File: AAP)

The federal government is being urged to urgently review its policy of overseas detention of pregnant asylum seekers.  

Medical practitioners and advocacy groups are calling on the federal government to urgently review its policy of overseas detention of pregnant asylum seekers.

The calls follow criticism from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which reported last week that two women at the Nauru detention centre had "high risk" pregnancies.

And there are reports that eight pregnant Vietnamese asylum seekers are being transferred to Nauru, with more expectant women are tipped to be sent there in coming days.

Thea Cowie reports.

The UNHCR visited Nauru last week, reporting back it was highly concerned about a 30-year-old Rohingya woman pregnant with twins, who had the added complication of having diabetes.

The other pregnancy characterised by the UNHCR as "high risk" involved a 22-year-old Iranian woman - also carrying twins.

President-elect of the Royal Australiasian College of Physicians Professor Nicholas Talley says he has serious concerns about pregnant women being sent to Nauru.

"My advice has been there will not be sufficient levels of care and neonatal care particularly if there is a problem with the baby. I think we are putting these people at increased risk."

Advocates say the pregnant women being sent to Nauru have to put up with tropical heat, limited privacy, and toilets hundreds of metres away.

But Pamela Curr from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre says discomfort may be the least of the concerns of pregnant women being sent to Nauru, and to the other detention centre on Manus Island, in Papua New Guinea.

"If we look at the statistics on Nauru and Manus Island they have infant mortality rates for children from birth to five years that are forty times higher than the mortality rate of babies born in Australia."

Under the Labor government earlier this year, three out of six pregnant women transferred from detention on Manus Island, miscarried.

The Australian Medical Association is calling for an urgent independent review of the medical and birthing facilities on Nauru.

President Steve Hambleton says right now, the federal government isn't providing enough information for him to be satisfied the women and babies will be safe.

"What the AMA's said all along is that once we take responsibility for anyone in this country we should be providing adequate levels of health care. That becomes more difficult the more remote you are and the further you are offshore. Right now we just don't know what is happening and we do need to make sure on a humanitarian basis we're supporting people."

Sophie Peer from Children Out of Immigration Detention agrees the women are Australia's responsibility and they should have access to an Australian standard of health care.

"It's absolutely not good enough. Why do we need to put more women in this position. Why do we need to send women who are Australia's responsibility, who have sought the protection of Australia as they are entitled to, why are we sending them away? And to put the lives of unborn children at risk like this is just cruel, unnecessary and could be fatal."

And Pamela Curr from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre says if and when the babies are delivered safely, they will not necessarily be out of danger.

"They're going to a tent. A vinyl tent, a communal tent where it is 50 degrees in the middle of the day. Anybody who knows the care of babies knows that maintaining their temperature is really important and you put a baby in 50 degree heat and you have a good chance of a dead child."

Ms Curr says she has confirmation a further eight pregnant Vietnamese women are being transferred to Nauru, with more to be sent offshore in coming days.

In his weekly media briefing Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has reaffirmed the government's commitment to overseas processing for all asylum seekers who arrive by boat, with no exceptions.

But Mr Morrison says the UNHCR reports are inaccurate.

"This suggestion that there is a pregnant women with twins on Nauru is simply not true. // Reporter: They're not there? // Morrison: It's actually not true. There is not a pregnant woman with twins on Nauru.

Mr Morrison says on Nauru there are nine widwives and a paediatrician, two delivery beds, six postnatal beds, a special baby unit and the capacity to perform caesarean sections.

He says he's absolutely satisfied that there are professional medical staff on Nauru providing the asylum seekers with an appropriate standard of care and monitoring.



Source SBS Radio

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