Pregnant and detained: in Australia and now on Nauru












In this guest post, the ASRC’s Detention Rights Advocate Pamela Curr looks at the dangerous and inhumane conditions facing pregnant asylum seekers and their children in Australian-run detention centres

Pregnant and detained

An unfunny thing happened two days before the Federal Election this year….

We received word from Christmas Island that 50 pregnant women were to be forcibly separated from their husbands and children, and transferred to Darwin for the duration of their pregnancies. We checked other sources – and all concurred that this was true and not a baseless rumour. The then Minister’s office was contacted and asked if they knew of this latest policy, to which a spokesperson said no and promised to get back to us.

Some hours later to our immense relief we heard from other sources that this transfer of 50 pregnant women would not proceed.

We then found out that some women had already been separated: wives in Darwin, and husbands and children on Christmas Island. This was remedied a few days later under orders from the previous Minister.

I went to the Wickham Point Immigration Detention Centre for a few hours in 2012. It is a purpose-built prison camp an hour out of Darwin in an isolated swamp location. It has electric fences, airlocks multiple gates, and extremely unfriendly guards.

I waited three hours before I was allowed in to visit.  I came home with bites and welts which lasted three weeks. The sandflies and mosquitoes are so bad that the Japanese gas company next door refuses to house its workers on site.

The conditions for pregnant women there also include:

  • Women report that they are constantly  hungry because of lack of food
  • They tell of meals of boiled chicken and rice day after day
  • They have to wait in food queues in the heat for one to two hours to be served.
  • Women who feel faint and ask for permission to sit are told that this is not permitted unless they have a “script” from the doctor otherwise they must wait in the queue  like everyone else.
  • All detainees are allowed one piece of fruit each day (two sometimes depending on which guard is on duty)
  • Detainees’ rooms are searched with cameras and they get into trouble if they are found with food or fruit.
  • Guards walk in without  knocking at any time to conduct “welfare checks”
  •  The women are constantly told that they should not be pregnant because they have no future in this country and will have to go back.
  • Children are only allowed to eat in the dining room at meal times.
  • Parents are not allowed to take food out of the dining room even if the children can’t eat at the appointed times.
  • Vietnamese people in particular are treated very badly. Pregnant Vietnamese women are constantly harassed and threatened with being interviewed by the Vietnamese military police.

What was really distressing was how, who, why anyone would come up with this plan. How could it be morally or humanely justified to separate families in this way during pregnancy?

But now the issue has reared again, in even more egregious circumstances.

Whoever was in charge on Christmas Island and Canberra making this brutal decision, may now be implementing offshore detention policies under the new minister Scott Morrisson. They may well be behind the decision to detain an Iranian woman, six-months pregnant with twins, on Nauru. This could see babies struggle to survive in 50-degree heat, living in communal tents in a camp that has no running water. As I told SBS earlier this month, anybody who knows the care of babies knows that maintaining their temperature is really important. You put a baby in 50 degree heat and you have a good chance of a dead child.

Australia, where oh where is your heart?

About the author:

Pamela Curr is the Detention Rights Advocate with the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. She has been fighting directly for human rights of refugees and asylum seekers in Australia for the past 10 years and is a regular contributor to this blog, as well as Crikey, The Drum, and the Sydney Morning Herald.


All posts are the opinion of the individual author involved. The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre does not edit or review posts prior to publishing.

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