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‘Please save my baby’ pleads refugee mother

Friday 19 June 2015 | Published in Regional


YAREN– The mother of a baby sent to the Nauru detention centre has become so stressed she is struggling to produce breast milk, according to a lawyer acting on the woman’s behalf.

Earlier this month, the five-month-old baby, known as Asha, became the first infant born in detention in Australia to be transferred to Nauru since the Federal Government amended the Migration Act last December.

Advocate and barrister Mark Thomas said the family was living in a tent in Area 9 of the complex, and he was worried about their health.

“The baby has had considerable problems in that the mother has lost the ability to breast feed. The baby, for a while, was not taking any formula milk,” he said.

“The mother, I’m informed now, is constantly distressed. The tent they are in is leaking constantly. There’s been a lot of rain, especially at night. The bed is wet.”

Natasha Blucher worked on Nauru as a senior caseworker prior to her removal from the island, along with eight other charity workers, in October last year.

She is now providing support to the family through Darwin’s Asylum Seeker Advocacy Network.

“The mother first called me the Saturday night after the transfer. She was crying loudly and hysterically and it was really difficult to calm her down,” Blucher said.

“I have spoken to her every couple of days since then. She simply repeats that she has no breast milk and cries, saying that her baby isn’t safe.

“She says that it’s been raining for days and the roof of the tent leaks – but that during the day it’s very hot and humid and the tent heats up.

“She says the baby has a heat rash, and that the tent has air conditioning but because the walls are flimsy and made of canvas, the air conditioning doesn’t keep the tent cool.”

Blucher provided the ABC with what she said was a screenshot of a text message she recently received from the mother, known as Abhaya.

It reads: “Hi, task (sic), 2 days ago here raining all water inside room bed wet water drop from roof. I can not put baby in the bed. Please save my baby please”.

A member of the international child advocacy organisation Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies Core Group questioned the support being provided to mother and child.

“A mother’s milk doesn’t just dry up overnight in response to stress,” the University of Western Sydney’s School of Nursing and Midwifery’s Doctor Karlene Gribble said.

“What can happen when mothers are very distressed is that the flow of the milk can be slowed and so the baby’s behaviour changes and it can look like there’s not enough milk.

“The solution is actually quite simple in terms of providing the mother with reassurance and support, but this mother did not have that in Nauru and she should have.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection denied the claims.

“The baby is in good health and is being cared for by her mother,” the statement read.

“She has regular check-ups with a GP and midwife. They have no concerns for her wellbeing. The mother, father and baby are accommodated in appropriate facilities for their circumstances.

“The department has not been notified of any leaks within the accommodation, nor of wet bedding.”

Blucher rejected the statement. “It is certainly not the message that I am receiving through direct contact with the parents,” she said.

Baby Asha was born at the Royal Darwin Hospital in January.

She was taken from Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation to Nauru with her parents on June 4.

Barrister Thomas said the transfer took place around 4.30am without his knowledge.

“The fact there was no prior notification meant it was impossible for me to go to the Federal Court, which I otherwise would have done, to seek an injunction to stop the baby and her parents being transferred to Nauru,” he said.

Thomas is now investigating legal action with the aim of getting Asha and her parents out of Nauru.

He said it would not be prudent to comment further.