Six Year Old Detainee Takes Feds to Court
26 August 2014 at 4:34 pm
A rare class action by a six-year-old asylum seeker has been launched in the Supreme Court against the Federal Government and Immigration Minister Scott Morrison over the treatment of injured detainees being held in detention centres.
Law firm Maurice Blackburn filed legal proceedings today on behalf of all asylum seekers who have been detained on Christmas Island in the past three years and suffered an injury or or exacerbation of an injury due to the Government’s failure to provide adequate health care.
The lead plaintiff in the class action is a six-year-old girl known only as “A.S.” who is the subject of a Supreme Court of Victoria pseudonym order to protect her identity. A.S. has been in detention for more than a year.
Maurice Blackburn Principal Jacob Varghese said during A.S’ time in detention she suffered from an ongoing dental infection, allergies, separation anxiety, bed wetting, she has developed a stammer and is refusing food.
She has been assessed by a child psychiatrist as having Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“Our client in this case has had minimal care and treatment for significant health issues. She was separated from her mother for an extended period when she was taken to the mainland to have a baby. In combination with being detained for over a year and having medical and dental issues poorly treated, A.S. is an alarmingly sad and anxious child, with serious mental health issues,” Varghese said.
“The Government is robbing A.S. of her childhood. The Government is robbing far too many kids of their childhoods.
“There is now a substantial body of evidence pointing to widespread failings for people in detention on Christmas Island including poor standard of health care and poor access to any specialist care.
“Too many asylum-seekers health are being severely compromised by being in detention. Doctors who have first-hand experience of what it is like there say services fall well short of standards the Australian community expects. Our claim alleges that the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection has failed in his duty of care to protect the health and wellbeing of asylum seekers held in detention on Christmas Island.
“The Minister and the Government have a duty of care that cannot be delegated to agents such as security company Serco or International Health and Medical Services (IHMS),” Varghese said.
“If that duty has been breached, as we allege, asylum seekers are entitled to compensation for the injuries and illnesses they have suffered as a result.”
Refugee Council of Australia CEO Paul Power told Pro Bono Australia News that he believed the class action would not be the last one brought against the Abbott Government.
“Not knowing how any legal case may be mounted, we would think it there are issues around the mandatory detention of asylum seekers that need to be investigated and explored,” Power said.
“There are so many people placed at risk while trying to find asylum in Australia.
“It’s not only common, it’s almost universal that people held in indefinite mandatory detention suffer mentally and physically.
“The Government has had all the evidence it needs in relation to this for many years now.
“It was almost inevitable that someone would take up a class action against the government on the issue of the treatment of people in detention centres.”
Power said children should not be kept in detention centres and that there were alternative measures in place to avoid this happening.
“We would welcome any class action as an opportunity to cast more light on the impacts of mandatory detention,” he said.
“There are around 27,000 people in alternative arrangements and 4000 people in locked detainment.
“What’s hard to understand is why it’s actually necessary to have so many people locked up.
“There are still quite a number of children that are in detention centres.”
Speaking at the Australian Human Rights Commission National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention Scott Morrison said the number of children in detention had fallen under the Abbott Government, but he defended indefinite detention as a life-saving measure.
“As a parent of two young children, the emotional challenges of working in this policy portfolio are just as real and just as great as they would be for any other parent in my position,” Morrison said.
“But sentiment cannot be indulged at the expense of effective policy that is saving lives and ending the chaos and tragedy that was occurring that many thought could never be turned around and that is my duty.
“At the last election the Australian people decided that enough children had drowned to warrant a change in policy. This has been done, but not without cost. There were always going to be costs.”
Maurice Blackburn is running the class action on a pro bono basis.