A senior doctor who was caring for asylum seekers detained by Australia on the remote Pacific island of Nauru has left the country, amid reports she was deported by the local government.
According to Australian government statistics from July, almost two hundred men and women, as well as a dozen children, are being detained on the tiny island nation where they were sent after arriving in Australia by boat.
However non-governmental organization Doctors Without Borders said there could be as many as 900 refugees and asylum seekers still left on the Pacific island, which is almost 2,800 miles from the Australian mainland.
Some detainees have been held there for years, barred from coming to Australia. The long detainment has severely damaged the asylum seekers’ mental health, with some children attempting suicide or acts of self-harm according to the United Nations.
Dr Nicole Montana, Australia’s senior medical officer on Nauru, tasked with overseeing the detainee’s health, left the island on Wednesday. Her employer, International Health and Medical Services, said she had been removed from her duties “for a breach of Regional Processing Center rules.”
Local Australian media reported Montana had been deported and placed on a flight back to Australia, provoking outrage among the country’s medical community.
“As medical practitioners, we cannot sit back knowing the care received by refugees and asylum seekers is anything but acceptable,” Harry Nespolon, Royal Australian College of General Practitioners President, said in a statement.
The Nauru government has denied reports Montana was told to leave the island, saying she was only “briefly questioned by police” after taking a picture of a child at a detention center without permission.
“The doctor has a valid visa and a right to practice medicine on the island and we welcome the doctor back on the island as her services are needed,” the statement said, accusing the Australian media of misrepresenting the issue.
It comes just two weeks after Doctors Without Borders said they were asked to cease activities on the island, where they were providing mental health support to the refugees.
In a video posted to their social media, the international medical organization said they “condemned” Nauru’s decision and described the dire situation they left behind on Nauru.
“Now the children, some of them, they are not eating, they are not drinking, anything, they are just laying on the bed, doing nothing … Childhood shouldn’t be like this,” psychiatrist Natalia Hverta Perez said in a video posted to the organization’s social media.
Pressure has been growing on the Australian government to help the increasingly distressed children held on Nauru, after a 12-year-old boy was evacuated to hospital in Australia after refusing to eat for weeks.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he would consider allowing the refugees to resettle in New Zealand, according to local media, but only if legislation was passed banning them from ever entering Australia.