Australian Border Force officials have revealed that 11 children were transferred from Nauru to Australia for medical attention late Monday.
ABF deputy commissioner Mandy Newton told a Senate Estimates hearing in Canberra there are 52 refugee and asylum seeker children and 107 families – 652 people on total – still on the Pacific island.
It’s believed the status of another 88 people is yet to be determined, while 23 have been assessed as failed asylum seekers.
The number of evacuated children was revised down after initially reports that 16 were transferred.
Likely Wentworth winner Kerryn Phelps told the ABC’s Q&A program on Monday night that the transfer of children from Nauru was a direct result of the by-election, where the issue was a major talking point.
Ms Phelps on Sunday said she wanted children in detention on Nauru immediately removed from the Pacific island.
The transfer also follows a letter signed by almost 6000 doctors, pleading for children to be removed.
The Australian Medical Association’s Dr Paul Bauert, who has treated children on Nauru, said the “sad” situation was dire and urgent.
The move was welcomed by many on social media.
Sixteen children transferred off Nauru for medical attention https://t.co/JBgL3oMxXy via @ABCNews. Not sure if this is down to Morrison, who put them there in the first place, but I applaud this move.
— Gerry Gannon (@GerryGannon) October 22, 2018
I’m crying with rage that this has taken so long and it’s still no where near complete. How the hell does it take an independent minister taking the ex PM’s seat and forcing minority government for this inhumane coalition to start dealing with this https://t.co/la6vZpAyYs
— neil (@netpraxis) October 22, 2018
The staggering hypocrisy on display today, apologise because others abused children whilst steadfastly deliberately and vindictively doing the same or worse to kids and family on Nauru
— Mark Ellery (@Pnutzs76) October 22, 2018
The Home Affairs department said it had spent $480,000 in legal fees in just three months, responding to applications to have refugees medically transferred to Australia from Manus Island and Nauru.
About $275,000 was spent on legal fees in the previous financial year.
“The number of applications coming from legal firms has increased considerably,” Home Affairs deputy secretary Cheryl-anne Moy told the hearing.
The rapid rise in legal costs come as the doctors, opposition parties and government backbenchers raise serious concerns about the health of those in detention.
Home Affairs Secretary Michael Pezzullo said permanent asylum in Australia would not be granted to those transferred for medical treatment because it could incentivise “perverse behaviours”, including causing serious harm to instigate a transfer.
“Treatment in Australia is absolutely available for those who require it,” he told Senate estimates on Monday.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday said he wanted the transfers to happen but did not want to create other issues by doing so.
“The government does not want to see children on Nauru. We didn’t put them there,” Mr Morrison said.
“I don’t want to see a dead child in the water and I don’t want to see a child under duress or stress or unwell anywhere else.
“We will continue to work closely with the crossbench members to get the right outcomes there.
“We all want that to be achieved, but none of us wants the human carnage to start again at sea.”
The ABF update comes as the Greens float a compromise agreement that could allow families to resettle in New Zealand.
There are growing calls for the federal government to accept New Zealand’s offer to take 150 refugees from the island.
The Coalition has indicated it may accept that offer, but only if new laws are passed to stop people sent to offshore detention from ever travelling to Australia.
The United States has accepted 276 people as part of a resettlement deal and rejected an additional 148.
Mr Pezzullo said that legislation, which has been sitting in federal Parliament since 2016, would close a “back door” to dissuade further boat arrivals.