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Thursday 3 December 2015 | Published in Regional


CANBERRA – More than 3000 Australian doctors and leading health experts have signed a petition calling on the Federal Government to act immediately to remove children from immigration detention.

Associate Professor Karen Zwi, a community paediatrician and head of department of community child health at Sydney Children’s Hospital, said she was seeing young children in Sydney hospitals who were severely impacted and harmed by their experiences in detention.

“We feel impotent to help our young patients when the causes of their distress are because of the system they find themselves in,” she said.

“And when our treatments are very unlikely to work if they know they will be returned to detention and not resettled in safe and welcoming environments.”

Dr Zwi is one of a number of doctors who have visited and examined children on Nauru and other detention centres.

“We have seen first hand why these places are so damaging,” she said.

Many of the children she had examined had been in detention for an average of about 500 days, Dr Zwi said.

“This is unbearable for most people, and more so if you are a child, and leads to severe psychological distress, and in children, developmental delay,” she said.

“This is what we are seeing in our patients and we feel as professionals we have a duty of care to make this known.”

Australian doctors are calling for children to be released from detention together with their families as a matter of urgency.

“We are damaging them further every day we keep them locked up,” she said.

Dr Zwi is speaking publicly, despite secrecy provisions in the Border Force Act, that stops them from speaking out about their work in detention centres.

The new law threatens imprisonment for those who speak out against abuse of asylum seekers and about health care violations in onshore and offshore detention centres.

The petition asks for parliament to vote to “immediately release these children together with their families from detention”.