HEALTH ISSUE: A number of UNSW medical students studying at the Rural Clinical School in Coffs Harbour are advocating for the health rights of refugees and asylum seekers in detention.
HEALTH ISSUE: A number of UNSW medical students studying at the Rural Clinical School in Coffs Harbour are advocating for the health rights of refugees and asylum seekers in detention. Trevor Veale

'This isn't about politics': Students rally for refugees

MEDICAL students, doctors and nurses from across NSW donned their scrubs, stethoscopes and lab coats to rally at the Detention Harms Health March in Sydney last weekend.

Coffs Harbour medical students were among the 400 taking part in the march, a demonstration of compassion and concern for the health of refugees in offshore detention.

Currently studying at the UNSW Rural Clinical School in Coffs Harbour, medical student Carrie Lee was one of the co-organisers of the march.

"As medical students we are learning to be future doctors and we're taught a lot of values, like to care for patients with decency and compassion and to be advocates for patients and their healthcare needs,” she said.

"This applies to all patients, no matter where they come from.

"From the trauma they've faced, they have both physical and complex psychiatry needs and should be treated with greater decency.

"This is not about politics, this is about health. This is about human life.”

Ms Lee said refugees and asylum seekers in detention could develop or suffer deterioration of severe physical and mental health issues that are otherwise preventable if adequate healthcare is provided.

TAKING A STAND: The Detention Harms Health march in Sydney.
TAKING A STAND: The Detention Harms Health march in Sydney. ZebedeeParkes.com

Ms Lee is just one of a number of medical students across the state who have been working hard over the past months to advocate against the harms of Australia's detention policies.

Between studying for exams, completing clinical placements in med wards and in obstetric theatres, the students have been holding meetings to plan ways to bring light to the issue.

"As doctors we are going to encounter refugees in everyday practice,” she said.

"Here in Coffs Harbour there is a decent community, from Burma, Afghanistan and parts of Africa, so we do encounter refugee patients in the hospital. We are very much aware of the needs and importance of refugee health.

"From our perspective it's not about politics but it's a humanitarian and health issue. We're losing the focus if we're taking the spotlight away from people and their lives.”

Fellow UNSW medical student Dulan Gunwardena, who is also studying in Coffs Harbour, was another march attendee.

"We're just asking that refugees get decent healthcare,” he said.

"You can't be a developed country and violate basic human rights. It's wrong on so many levels.

"This (Australia's detention policy) isn't cost-effective at all. If we stopped doing this, we could use this money to actually look after the health of refugees and improve grass roots organisations who are helping refugees in the community.

"The amount of money that refugees contribute to local economies, especially rural and regional economies, is huge.

"And the amount of money poured into offshore detention just to prove a point makes no sense.”

The march featured speeches by medical and community leaders including paediatrician whistle blower Professor David Isaacs, former head of mental health services on offshore detention Dr Peter Young, Rwandan refugee and community advocate Dr Nadine Shema and human rights lawyer George Newhouse.

Word of the march reached the men on Manus Island, who sent a message of thanks and solidarity to the medical students.



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