THE Australian government announced on Sunday that the last four asylum-seeker children detained at Nauru will be resettled in the United States, vindicating the tireless efforts of refugee advocates including Jewish human rights lawyer and managing director of the National Justice Project (NJP), George Newhouse.
The last child requiring medical transfer on Nauru was also evacuated to Australia for urgent medical care.
Newhouse told The AJN this week that since December 2017, lawyers ran cases to bring 92 children to Australia, the NJP acting for 46 of them.
“When the Prime Minister proudly announced that his government has removed all of the children from Nauru, I think it needs to be made clear that he has fought us and other lawyers,” Newhouse said. “And you’d have to say the government reluctantly brought these children to Australia.
“It was only after the cases, [and] the Australian Medical Association doctors and church groups got involved, that the tide turned in the general community and there was a sense that it was not on to keep children in these cruel and inhumane conditions.”
While a collaborative effort between various advocacy groups helped to raise the alarm, Newhouse said the legal repercussions broke the logjam.
“The judges were making findings and decisions that were incredibly embarrassing to the government … but it was well and truly opened up by public advocacy and community views, which shifted towards the end of last year,” he said.
Newhouse also commended the work of Jewish Member for Wentworth Dr Kerryn Phelps, whose campaign “brought national attention to the issue”.
Her private member’s bill that would give medical professionals more say in approving medical transfers from offshore detention will be debated in Parliament next week.
“I understand that there are about 180 people who would qualify for transfer because their condition cannot be treated on Manus Island or Nauru, and those people are very much dependent on the passage of this legislation,” Dr Phelps said.
“If the legislation passes, then two doctors’ opinions will trigger the request for removal to Australia, and then the minister can object on the basis of national security concerns or they can object on the basis that they don’t agree with the medical assessment.”
There are still 1200 adults remaining on Nauru and Manus Island waiting for a resettlement.
“The NJP has recently commenced two class actions in the High Court – one on behalf of the remaining adults at Nauru, and one on behalf of the remaining adults in Manus Island,” commented Newhouse.