12-year-old refugee boy airlifted from Nauru to Australia for medical attention

A 12-year-old boy detained on Nauru under the Australian government's strict border policies has been transf...

Posted: Aug 21, 2018 2:46 PM
Updated: Aug 21, 2018 2:46 PM

A 12-year-old boy detained on Nauru under the Australian government's strict border policies has been transferred to the mainland for treatment, according to a spokesman for a refugee advocacy group.

The boy, accompanied by his mother, stepfather and sister, has left the island for Australia by air ambulance, according to Ian Rintoul of the Refugee Action Coalition.

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He is seriously ill after refusing to eat for at least two weeks, necessitating his evacuation, according to medical professionals.

Doctors for Refugees President Barri Phatarfod told CNN that the boy was one of several young children on Nauru whose health was progressively deteriorating.

"We can only assume (he has) depression because of his progressive withdrawal from different aspects of life ... We know he refuses to eat and refuses to drink," Phatarfod said.

There are 119 children still living on Nauru after being transferred there under Australia's immigration policy, which bans asylum seekers who arrive by boat from being settled on the mainland.

The Australian government insists the children are no longer in detention, but they and their parents are not allowed to leave. The Australian Border Force was contacted by CNN for comment but did not respond.

'Acts of self-harm and depression'

The Australian government started moving hundreds of asylum seekers and refugees, including children, to Nauru after reopening its detention center in 2012. Since then there have been regular reports of physical and psychological damage suffered by the new arrivals.

A 2016 UN report found many cases of "attempted suicide, self-immolation, acts of self-harm and depression" among children detained on Nauru.

According to Phatarfod, the only way for someone to be transferred from Nauru to Australia for medical treatment is to be at risk of imminent death.

She told CNN a number of children on Nauru were regressing developmentally, showing less ability at their current age than a few years ago.

'Stop playing politics'

Using the hashtag #KidsOffNauru, more than 30 non-government organizations in Australia have started a petition calling for the government to allow the refugee children to leave the island.

"(This) is a test of the courage of our political leaders to resolve this situation. If they fail this test, we will not drop the baton in championing these children to be put in a situation where they can grow up as normal, healthy children," said World Vision Chief Executive Claire Rogers.

Some members of the Australian Parliament have spoken out in an attempt to gain help for the detainees on Nauru.

Speaking in the House of Representatives on August 13, Independent politician Andrew Wilkie called on the government in a speech to "stop playing politics with people's lives," listing a dozen cases of detainees in severe need of medical treatment.

"A 12-year-old boy who has overdosed twice in the past fortnight, an 11-year-old girl who is suicidal, an eight-year-old boy with autism in need of substantial support, a 27-year-old woman (who) was sexually assaulted on Nauru and is so afraid to leave her accommodation she has felt forced to urinate in a bucket," he said.

Demands for release

The 30 charities came together on Monday to demand the government release the children by Universal Children's Day, November 20.

As part of their campaign, they released images of three children who are living on the tiny island, including two-year-old Roze who has spent her entire life there.

"There are children here suffering. We don't know what our future holds. Our children are like any other little children around the world -- but they are not allowed to be free," their parents said in a statement.

World Vision's Rogers told CNN the young people marooned on Nauru had less hope than children she'd seen in refugee camps around the world.

"I never thought I'd have to fight this in my own country, but the things that are going on Nauru have just caught my heart," she said.

So far there has been no indication the Australian Government will listen to the latest plea for the refugees, but Rogers said they will keep trying no matter what.

"No one's saying this isn't a complex problem, but locking up children is not the solution," she said.

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