The Australian government has brought 11 refugee children on Nauru to Australia for medical treatment, just two days after it emerged the children in detention was a major issue for voters in the Wentworth by-election.
The transfer occurred amid growing concerns about the mental health of refugee children on the island, some of whom have been there for five years.
Another 52 children, all assessed as genuine refugees, remain on Nauru.
According to official figures, there are still 652 people on Nauru, with 541 assessed as refugees, 23 having their claims denied and another 88 still to have their assessments completed.
The Department of Home Affairs officials confirmed to Fairfax Media that the children arrived in Australia around 6pm on Monday, following clinical referrals.
Meanwhile the Australian Border Force’s Surgeon-General, Parbodh Gogna, appeared before a Senate Estimates hearing last night and said he’d visited Nauru and understood there was an “unprecedented jump” in the need for medical treatment among the detainees.
With incoming independent MP for Wentworth Dr Kerryn Phelps nominating the issue of children in detention as a top priority in the wake of the government losing its majority as well as Malcolm Turnbull’s old seat for the first time in 117 years, it appears that all sides of politics are willing to act in order to take up New Zealand’s long-standing offer to take up to 150 refugees.
The sticking point has been a travel ban that would stop the refugees using what Home Affairs secretary Michael Pezzullo calls “back door” access to Australia for New Zealand citizens.
The Morrison government wants to close a loophole to prevent any refugees accepted by New Zealand from coming to Australia, and the Greens and Labor now appear willing to strike a compromise and pass the legislation for a travel ban in order for the resettlement deal to proceed.
The Greens are demanding that all the children on Nauru are brought to Australia for treatment before they’ll back the legislation. They also want the legislation to only apply to refugees resettled in New Zealand.
Greens leader Richard Di Natale told the ABC that: “We need to put the politics aside and look after these children, who are being traumatised and brutalised right now.”
His party has been calling for the refugees to be settled in Australia, but Di Natale now says the New Zealand option is “something we will consider”.
Labor has also softened its stand with shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus saying they’d consider the travel ban “if that’s what it comes down to” in the “best interests of these children”.
Labor has also strongly opposed the lifetime ban legislation, saying it was over-the-top and unnecessary, but said it would consider the bill.
The USA has also accepted 276 refugees as part of a resettlement struck between former President Barack Obama and Malcolm Turnbull, but refused a further 148 following assessment. The bill would also apply to refugees who went to the US.
Fairfax Media has more here.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.