SYDNEY : Asylum-seekers including a six-year-old girl are suing the Australian government for compensation and medical care after they were allegedly injured while detained on Christmas Island, their lawyers said Tuesday.
Law firm Maurice Blackburn said a class action was filed on behalf of people who have been injured, or have seen their injuries worsen, due to the alleged failure of the government to provide “adequate medical care” in camps in the Australian territory.
“Too many asylum-seekers’ health are being severely compromised by being in detention,” Maurice Blackburn principal Jacob Varghese said in a statement.
He said there was substantial evidence pointing to a “poor standard of health care and poor access to any specialist care”.
“Doctors who have first-hand experience of what it is like there say services fall well short of standards the Australian community expects.” Over the past several years thousands of people have been held on Christmas Island, in the Indian Ocean.
There are currently 759 men, 97 women and 148 children in detention there, immigration figures show.
The lead plaintiff is a six-year-old identified only as AS, who has been kept on the island with her family for more than a year.
The girl, whose identity has been protected by a court ruling, had “significant health issues” such as dental infection, allergies, separation anxiety and bed wetting, the law firm said.
“In combination with being detained for over a year and having medical and dental issues poorly treated, AS is an alarmingly sad and anxious child, with serious mental health issues,” Varghese claimed.
He added that AS - who also developed a stammer, is refusing food and has been assessed as having post-traumatic stress disorder - was separated from her mother “for an extended period” when the woman was taken to the Australian mainland to have a baby.
“The government is robbing AS of her childhood. The government is robbing far too many kids of their childhoods,” Varghese said.
Under Canberra’s hardline immigration policy, boatpeople arriving in Australia since July 2013 have been sent to camps on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and Nauru in the Pacific.
The asylum-seekers, who total 2,273 according to official data, will be resettled in those countries if their refugee claims are valid. Just over 3,700 more are detained on Christmas Island and other mainland facilities.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison on Friday defended the policy of detaining asylum-seeker children, saying it was “effective” in deterring others from boarding boats from Asia to Australia.
He said there were 70 clinical staff - including 25 mental health specialists, and a 24-hour on-call paramedic - for asylum-seekers on Christmas Island.
“Facilities are provided within our detention network to a standard equivalent to those in the community, and in many cases far better,” he said.