Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital – what next for the refugee movement?
The decision by staff at Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital not to release 12 month old baby Asha back into detention and deportation to the Nauru gulag has rightly inspired many Australians. Acccording to the ABC’s Francis Tapim “a hospital spokesman said the baby would not be discharged until a “suitable home environment is identified, as is the case with every child who presents at hospital”.
“All decisions relating to a patient’s treatment and discharge are made by qualified clinical staff, based on a thorough assessment of the individual patient’s clinical condition and circumstances, and with the goal of delivering the best outcome,” the statement read.
Returning Asha to the hellhole that is Nauru would contradict everything doctors and nurses stand for, And make no mistake, Nauru is a hellhole. As the 13 February editorial in The Lancet says:
‘A report by paediatricians from the University of Sydney to the Australian Human Rights Commission in October, 2015, concluded that closed immigration detention in Wickham Point (on the mainland) and Nauru was harmful to the health and mental health of young children and youth. The report called for all children to be immediately removed from such facilities, and stated that “under no circumstances should any child detained on the mainland be returned to or transferred to Nauru” either in detention or in the community because the island is an inappropriate place for asylum-seeking children.’
Large numbers of people have been keeping vigil at the hospital. The Queensland Council of Unions has called for more volunteers to staff the vigil to protect baby Asha.
So far the government has been silent, (so too has Labor), and has not yet taken any action. It knows that sending in police and border force thugs to snatch baby Asha form the hospital and putting her in harm’s way risks not only alienating but angering many Australians to protest. On the other hand if the campaign to keep Asha here is successful, it undermines the government’s whole program of demonising asylum seekers and refugees and will inspire others to take direct action to defend those fleeing war, death, oppression, torture and rape.
Obviously, the first task of the refugee movement must be to help defend baby Asha. Its physical presence – hundreds have been at the vigil at various times – is an important step. Given the intransigence of this Australian government on baby Asha and all asylum seekers, Turnbull and Dutton will only be moved by mass action in the streets and industrial action to protect her. That mass action, like all mass movements for justice, must include a debate at least about civil disobedience. Shut down Melbourne to shut down Manus.
It must also include discussion of workers banning any action that might involve deporting Asha, recognising such action would be ‘illegal’ under current bipartisan industrial laws. The call by the Queensland Council of Unions for people to join the vigil and circulating a roster is especially important in this context. Unions are beginning to get involved. Now our task must be to try and harness the power workers have, to save Asha and the other 266 threatened with deportation.
It is workers who can win a decisive victory for refugees over this rotten Government. Most importantly, they could ban any work associated with deporting the 267 currently threatened with being sent back to Nauru after the High Court case to save the 267 failed. Border Force public servants, airline workers, airport workers, doctors and nurses, security guards, local detention centre workers, all could ban any work that could lead leads to deportation or even walk off the job to stop the deportations.
The need for supporters at the vigil is great. Can we defend any asylum seeker threatened with deportation to Nauru? Yes, so let’s build the campaign to defend baby Asha and all the other 267 asylum seekers who are under threat of being deported in the next week.
Socialist group Solidarity (of which I am a member) argues that three things are critical:
•A powerful movement, based on grassroots organising and mass demonstrations;
•Union and working class involvement to break the Labor Party’s support;
•Combating the scapegoating that implies refugees take jobs and rort the system
Solidarity has produced a model motion for unions and others to use to express and build support to let them stay and to close down Manus Island and Nauru. We say:
Below is a general motion that can be used or adapted for, among other groups, workplace or union use in regard to the refugee issue.
This meeting of ………………… notes
(i) that 267 asylum seekers, including 91 children (37 of whom are
babies born in Australia; and 36 at school) are presently in Australia
having been brought here by the immigration department from offshore
detention centre of Manus Island and Nauru;
(ii) that they were brought for medical attention and mental health
treatment that was not available on Nauru or Manus Island;
(iii) that they have spent around two years in detention and have not
(iv) that the detrimental effects of long term detention are well
known for both children and adults;
(v) that Nauru and Manus Island are not safe for asylum seekers or refugees;
(vi) that five state and territory leaders, including Labor leaders in
Victoria, Queensland and South Australia have called on the Turnbull
government not to return the 267 to Nauru;
We further note that the Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton has stated
that he expects this group of asylum seekers including the 72 children
may soon be sent back to Nauru.
We therefore declare our complete opposition to any asylum seeker, or
refugee, presently in Australia being sent to Nauru or Manus Island;
(i) call on the government not to send any asylum
seeker or refugee to Manus Island or Nauru;
(ii) call on the state government to not cooperate with any
attempt by the Federal government to return any of the 267 to Nauru;
(ii) will provide all appropriate moral, financial and material
support for the campaign by community and refugee advocacy groups to
prevent asylum seekers being returned to Manus Island and Nauru.