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RACGP calls on Government to return Biloela family to Australia


Matt Woodley


11/06/2021 3:04:57 PM

President Dr Karen Price says there are long-term health impacts associated with indefinite detention that must be considered.

Tharnicaa and Priya Murugappan
Three-year-old Tharnicaa Murugappan, who was recently transferred to Perth for urgent treatment of a suspected blood infection, and her mother Priya. (Image: AAP)

This article was updated at 8.50 pm on Monday 14 June.

UPDATE: As of the evening of Monday 14 June, it is understood the Federal Government is poised to announce that the Murugappan family will soon be able to live freely on the Australian mainland.

Reports of Australian-born Tharnicaa Murugappan requiring an emergency medical evacuation from a Christmas Island detention centre have placed renewed focus on the plight of the Tamil family.
 
The three-year-old was recently transferred to Perth for urgent treatment of a suspected blood infection after feeling ill for almost two weeks, and she has also since been diagnosed with pneumonia.
 
While the ongoing legal battle over the Murugappans’ right to stay in Australia shows no sign of resolution, RACGP President Dr Karen Price has said that the mental health and wellbeing of the family must come first.
 
‘Ask any GP and they will tell you that the detention of children and prolonged detention of adults has been shown to cause a range of adverse long-term physical, psychological and developmental effects,’ she said.
 
‘The welfare of these family members must be front of mind. At the RACGP, we believe that detention of vulnerable groups such as children, pregnant women and survivors of torture and trauma should be avoided, and for others it should be strictly for the minimum time possible.’
 
The family’s mother, Priya, has also previously required transfer to the mainland for medical treatment and Dr Price stressed that timely access to healthcare is essential for all patients.
 
‘The RACGP believes that it is the right of everyone to have accessible and appropriate healthcare,’ she said.
 
‘The healthcare of asylum seekers in detention, whether offshore, on-shore or community detention, should be of a standard that is the same of any person living in Australia.
 
‘This includes timely access to health services, and universal access to Medicare-funded primary care services when appropriate.’
 
The Murugappan family’s case has sparked international headlines ever since a pre-dawn Border Force raid on their Biloela home in March 2018, which eventually culminated in their transfer to the Christmas Island detention facility, where they are the only inhabitants.
 
Chair of RACGP Specific Interests Refugee Health Dr Rebecca Farley told newsGP there is ‘clear evidence’ that held detention has serious consequences for the health, development and wellbeing of young children.
 
‘Detention of children should not be permitted in Australia,’ she said. ‘As GPs, we know the fundamental importance of a safe and happy home and social environment for all infants and children.
 
‘It is also important to acknowledge that there are many people, including families with children living in our communities, who do not have the right to work or access Medicare services.
 
‘These people can’t return home … [and] many have been waiting for over eight years with no certainty or hope for the future, almost entirely dependent on volunteer services.’
 
Dr Price said the uncertainty and length of the visa determination process has left asylum seekers increasingly vulnerable.
 
‘[It] contributes significantly to poor mental health outcomes, so timely permanent settlement solutions for families is essential,’ she said.
 
‘GPs have a role in advocating to address the barriers to equitable healthcare that exist for refugees and asylum seekers, it’s as simple as that.’
 
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