Australian Medical Community Calls for End of Refugee Detention

Posted August 18th, 2011 at 2:20 am (UTC-5)
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The head of the Australian Medical Association has condemned the government's policy of mandatory detention for asylum seekers as “inherently harmful” to the detainees' physical and mental health.

Dr. Steven Hambleton denounced the policy Wednesday evening during the AMA's annual parliamentary dinner, which was attended by both Prime Minister Julia Gillard and opposition leader Tony Abbott.

Australia's immigration detention centers are crammed with refugees from countries including Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Iraq, most of whom arrive by boat through Indonesia and other neighboring countries. Under Australian law, anyone arriving without proper documentation is detained while their application for asylum is considered, a process that can take up to a year.

Detainees have staged violent protests at various detention centers in recent months.

The head of Australia's immigration department, Andrew Metcalfe, told a parliamentary committee Tuesday that lawmakers should reconsider the mandatory detention policy.

Dr. Hambleton said the situation is “especially acute” in the case of children. He told Ms. Gillard and Abbott the AMA will leave the politics of asylum seekers to the politicians, but urged them to make sure the detainees have access to quality health care.