By Colin Packham
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian doctors said on Thursday a “humanitarian emergency” is unfolding at an Australian-run detention centre in the Pacific and they asked for government permission to treat asylum seekers at the remote facility.
Australia’s hardline immigration policy requires asylum seekers intercepted at sea trying to reach Australia to be sent for processing to three camps in Papua New Guinea and one on the South Pacific island of Nauru.
In a letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) said there was an urgent need to send a delegation of doctors to Nauru after reports of some asylum seekers harming themselves.
“There are now too many credible reports concerning the effects of long-term detention and uncertainty on the physical and mental health of asylum seekers,” AMA President Tony Bartone said in the letter seen by Reuters.
The AMA represents doctors and medical students.
More than 1,000 men, woman and children are living in the camps in Papua New Guinea and Nauru. They are told they will never be settled in Australia.
Morrison declined to comment on the AMA letter when asked by reporters in Canberra. He said many asylum seekers would soon be transferred to the United States.
The United States has said it will accept up to 1,250 refugees from Australia’s detention centres. Refugee advocates said about 300 have been resettled so far.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said in May hundreds of asylum-seekers are likely to remain in the centres indefinitely as no other country is willing to resettle them.
The detention of about 100 children, some of whom have spent their entire lives on Nauru, has drawn the most severe criticism, spurred by a recent spate of self-harm incidents.
Australia, which claims the policy is necessary to deter drownings at sea, has transferred several children off Nauru.
In August, Australia relocated a 12-year Iranian boy who had been on a hunger strike, two sources familiar with the transfer said.
(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Darren Schuettler)