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Australia's treatment of refugees condemned

SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- Australia's detention centers for refugees have sustained a barrage of deep and informed criticism on the eve of a major United Nations meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, on the protection of refugees.

The latest condemnation of the government's increasingly hard-line approach comes in the Australian Medical Journal, from Australian and New Zealand Royal College of Psychiatrists, and from a former judge.

The college called on Sunday for its members not to work in the detention centers which they say are traumatizing the boat people.

"All medical practitioners should think carefully about the ethical issues involved before they accept any positions in the detention centers . . . ," said college chair Louise Newman.

"These are environments that are fundamentally traumatizing and disturbing to the people who are in them.

"There is nothing in the way of adequate treatment of individuals and children who are suffering the effects of trauma -- some of whom are very depressed, suicidal and self-harming," Newman said.

In another weekend attack, former federal judge Marcus Einfeld told a conference marking the 50th anniversary of the U.N. Convention on Refugees that some were held for up to five years in what is effectively a prison.

"This is happening in the Australia of the 21st century, in front of the eyes of every citizen of this country," he said.

"This is child and youth abuse, pure and simple, and it has for years been -- and is still being -- committed daily by Australian authorities in the name of the people of this country."

And in the December edition of the Medical Journal of Australia, Aemer Sultan, an Iraqi physician held for months at Sydney's Villawood detention center, and Kevin O'Sullivan, a psychologist who regularly visits the center, also find much to criticize.

"Detainees are routinely handcuffed during transportation to and from the facility for medical or legal appointments," they said.

"Concerns have been raised about doctors authorizing sedative medication for containment and removal of detainees rather than for genuine medical reasons."

The authors said during crisis periods, such as hunger strikes, detainees were confined to their rooms for long periods.

"Some detainees have suffered intimidation and reprisals after acts of advocacy, protest or revolt," they said.

Earlier this year Australia decided to turn back boatloads of refugees or force them to go to assessment camps in smaller, less well-resourced Pacific islands.

Immigration Minister Phillip Ruddock is due to explain Australia's policies an international conference on refugees this week while Foreign Minister Alexander Downer visits the Pacific island of Nauru on Monday to ask the tiny nation to take more asylum seekers from Australia. .


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