Aussie doctors refuse to return 1yo baby to offshore detention center, hundreds rally in support

© David Haines
Hundreds have rallied outside a children’s hospital in Brisbane to protest the imminent deportation of a 1-year-old infant girl, known as Baby Asha. Doctors are refusing to discharge the toddler, who has been treated for severe burns sustained in an offshore immigration detention camp.

Protestors shouted “Let them stay!” referring to the family of Baby Asha, a 12-month-old girl who came to Australia from a camp on the South Pacific island of Nauru to receive medical treatment for accidental burns from boiled water spilled on her several weeks ago. 

Demonstrators held a solidarity vigil outside the hospital, and they pledge to continue the protest through the weekend, objecting to the government’s stringent migration policy.

Asha was admitted to Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital in Brisbane, Queensland, but now faces deportation back to the migrant detention center in Nauru, which is administered by the Australian authorities.

“As is the case with every child who presents at the hospital, this patient will only be discharged once a suitable home environment is identified,” said a spokesman for the hospital, insisting that Asha will remain in the facility until she fully recovers. 

 “All decisions relating to a patient’s treatment and discharge are made by qualified clinical staff, based on a thorough assessment of the individual, delivering the best outcome,” the spokesman added.

Asha’s parents are currently being held in a migrant detention center in Brisbane, but the government says they will be sent back to Nauru once the girl recovers.

"They're fearful for their baby and the conditions that they face. It's just horrible for them and they're resolute that they don't want to go back," said Mark Gillespie, a spokesperson for the Refugee Action Council. Addressing protesters on Saturday, he said the group supported the hospital’s stance.

"The father told me about insects that come into the tent and make the baby itch, and she's got bites all over her. It's no place for a baby, it's obvious," he said, arguing that sending a sick child to the detention center with such poor living conditions would inevitably harm the baby.

Dr. Richard Kidd, from Doctors for Refugees, praised the decision of doctors not to release the tiny patient. “There is overwhelming evidence… of the terrible harm that is done to babies and children… in detention, particularly offshore,” he said.

Although medical staff may have delayed the deportation of Baby Asha for now, her family say they don’t feel secure.  

“The Border Force has overruled decisions of medical experts in the past, so the family remains very scared they will be secretly snatched from the hospital and returned to detention", Shen Narayanasamy, Human Rights Group director, told The Sydney Morning Herald.

Asha, born in Australia to migrant parents, was sent back to Nauru when she was only  five months old, contrary to the recommendation from international aid group Save the Children, which warned the government that the move was “potentially catastrophic,” the Guardian Australia reported.

Despite being born in Australia, under national migration legislation Baby Asha falls under the category of “illegal maritime arrivals,” and is subject to deportation. The legislation is ostensibly aimed at countering people-smuggling, which sees thousands of asylum-seekers paying smugglers in an attempt to reach Australia in often unsafe boats. Although the number of asylum seekers coming to Australia is relatively small in comparison to Europe, the country’s right-wing government has taken a tough stance on migration, removing potential migrants to camps outside the country, such as Nauru or Manus Island detention centers.