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Australia

Critically ill refugee child on hunger strike flown from Nauru to Australia with family

The 12-year-old boy, who had been held on the island since he was eight, weighs just 36kg and is so weakened he cannot stand up or sit

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 August, 2018, 3:05pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 August, 2018, 3:05pm

A 12-year-old refugee on Nauru who has refused all food and medical treatment for more than 20 days was moved to Australia on Tuesday with his whole family.

M was taken from Nauru by air ambulance with his mother, stepfather and sister. The Australian Border Force initially refused to move M with his family, insisting they be separated, with his stepfather to stay on the island.

However, after M refused to leave without his family, and after several failed attempts to move him, first on commercial flights, and then by air ambulance, the border force acquiesced and allowed the whole family to travel.

On-island sources told Guardian Australia that M was gravely ill and would have died within days without medical intervention. A medical assessment conducted on Sunday said M was “reaching a critical time”.

“He is now at day 19 of food refusal,” his doctor wrote. “Likewise apart from sips of water and the … dextrose solution that he was given, he has not had any significant oral hydration. His last bowel motion was 15+ days ago and he rarely passes dribbles of urine painfully.”

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Doctors on the island refused to restrain or sedate M to forcibly feed and hydrate him, saying it was unethical, and that the border force must accept clinical recommendations that the child be moved to a hospital off the island.

“I would not be prepared to treat M against his will [using] restraint or medical sedation,” his doctor wrote. “We carried out the latter a week ago, because we believed … his father gave written consent. It resulted in him refusing to re-attend the clinic. This treatment is not sustainable.

“With regards to him being treated at [Republic of Nauru] hospital, the consequences of that lie with the Australian government.

“Currently M needs urgent evacuation by air ambulance … He is not fit to travel on a commercial flight.”

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The 12-year-old boy weighs just 36kg and is so weakened he cannot stand up or sit.

Images show him lying on the tarmac at Nauru airport being strapped into a stretcher before being loaded on to the air ambulance. He remains dangerously ill.

M had been held on Nauru since he was eight.

M and his family, who fled persecution in their homeland Iran, have all been recognised as refugees. They are legally owed protection by Australia.

“This whole thing has been inhumane and unnecessary,” a medical source said. “They’ve prolonged this transfer, compromising him medically even further. And they’ve added to the family’s distress by making them choose between each other, being told they have to leave someone behind, to perhaps never see them again.

“All of this for no reason, but it has harmed the well-being of a child.”

The situation is “dangerously chaotic” on Nauru, government sources say, with tensions increasingly fraught around the health of children, 117 of whom remain on the island.

A steady flow of children are being removed from the island – one by one – through court challenges being brought in the federal court in Australia. In at least 14 cases, the Department of Home Affairs has either conceded at the courthouse doors or the court has ordered the child to Australia immediately.

The federal court has consistently found medical facilities to treat psychological illnesses or complex physical conditions do not exist on Nauru.

The court has also found that detention on the island is causing harm to children.

But Nauru officials remained concerned about the upcoming Pacific Islands Forum, where the leaders of Pacific countries will visit, bringing international media attention. Protests are planned and there are concerns riots could break out, overshadowing the forum.

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Nauru sources say much of the small island will be placed into lockdown while leaders are onshore. Several service providers are decreasing the number of staff on the island, with those being replaced by more security staff, and former Nauruan police are being redrafted into service.

New Zealand has reiterated its long-standing offer to accept 150 refugees from Nauru, bypassing the Australian government – to whom the offer has stood since 2013 – and dealing directly with the Nauran government.

“We’ve talked directly, through various channels, with the government of Nauru about that offer, as we have the Australian government,” the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, said, insisting the offer still stood.

“The government in Nauru has continued to point out they wish to work ­directly with Australia.”

Ardern said New Zealand’s hands were tied. “It’s now beyond our own capacity to deliver on it.”