Australia has taken a hard-line for years in its treatment of those who seek asylum on her shores, but the latest story from Brisbane is harsh even by their tough standards. Latifa, 31, was being held offshore on the island of Nauru, when her due date to give birth approached. She was moved to mainland Australia and put into a detention centre in Brisbane.
She gave birth to a son, Farus, by caesarean section on November 10, and was then separated from him for days. Farus had some breathing difficulties and had to be kept in the special baby care unit at the Mater Misericordia Hospital. Latifa was only permitted to visit him between the hours of 10am and 4pm, when she was then taken back to the detention centre, a 20 minute drive away, and detained for 18 hours.
The child’s father, Niza, was not allowed to visit the baby at all. He is also confined to the Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodation, along with their other two children, aged four and seven.
When Tony Abbot was elected Prime Minister in September 2013 he made it clear he was going to continue to take a tough stance on asylum seeker policy. However, separating a mother and a newborn child seems, to many in Australia, to be overly harsh. Spokeswoman for the Churches Refugee Taskforce, Misha Coleman, who is also a qualified midwife, said “this is the most diabolical situation.” She added “I can’t see any reason why this woman should be kept from her sick baby.”
Child refugee rights group ChilOut echoed these sentiments. Sophie Peer, the campaign director, said “any room in the hospital could be designated as a place of detention.” She said it was common practice for new mothers to be moved back into detention a few days after giving birth, but that was when they took their babies with them.
Latifa is no stranger to detention, she spent 10 years in a Malaysian refugee camp prior to her confinement on Nauru. Latifa comes from Myanmar, where she was a member of the Rohingya people, and subjected to persecution. The Mater Hospital have now confirmed that the baby has been discharged today, but it disagreed with the ordeal that Latifa went through in the days of enforced separation. The family will now be returned to the processing centre on Nauru.
The hospital made it clear they encouraged mothers to be by their babies, to establish a bond, and had made no restrictions on visiting hours.
The Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, has been accused of arrogance and inhumanity over this case. The former leader of the Liberal party, John Hewson, said “a mother in these circumstances is usually given 24-hour access to a child in intensive care.” He felt the treatment of Latifa had been “ridiculous.”
Scott Morrison defended his decision to limit contact and, in direct refutation of the hospital’s position, said it was “common practice” for mothers not to stay the night.
Sarah Hanson-Young of the Greens party agreed with Hewson that the government had acted far too heavy-handed. “It is absolutely inhumane and senselessly callous” she said.
Misha Coleman called for compassion, re-stressing that the family had already been in a refugee camp for a decade with “kids who have no proper schooling and no future”
Why does Australia feel the need to be so tough on asylum seekers? So many have drowned trying to reach Australia by boat that both major parties vowed to stop the people smugglers. But Prime Minister Tony Abbot is now exasperating the electorate by being mysteriously silent about his future plans. It has even been suggested that he would rather put a freeze on all information and stifle questioning from the press.
In an interview on the ABC News this week he told the host “I’m interested in stopping the boats. I’m not interested in providing sport for journalists.” He called the asylum seeking dilemma “an affront to our Australian sovereignty” and said “the public expects us to solve the problem.”
His refusal to answer any questions, given his bold stance on this policy in his electioneering, is frustrating the media. Whether the “turn back the boats” policy is working or not, whether a boat had arrived in Darwin this week are among issues the government refuses to comment on. Likewise, the public have a right to know what is happening to the detainees on Nauru and Manus islands and how their claims are being processed.
Despite a recent rise in numbers, with more refugees than ever arriving by boat, Australia still takes on a tiny percent, three percent of the world’s total numbers.
Amnesty International have a slogan “Seeking Asylum is not a crime.” Many, like Latifa, cruelly separated from her newborn, are finding that under Australia’s harsh treatment, seeking asylum can feel like a crime.
By Kate Henderson