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Asylum seeker family must go to Darwin to make room in Brisbane: court

By Marissa Calligeros
The Age
April 4, 2014

31-year-old Rohingyan woman Latifar with her sick newborn baby. Photo: Supplied

Lawyers for the immigration minister say an asylum-seeker family at the centre of a High Court battle needs to be transferred to Darwin to make room for two more families needing medical treatment in Brisbane.

An urgent request to stop the family of Myanmar nationals from being transferred to Darwin from the Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodation Centre at Pinkenba is being heard before Justice Patrick Keane in the High Court.

Latifar, a Rohingyan woman, was transferred from Nauru to give birth to Ferouz in Brisbane's Mater Hospital last year. The mother and baby remain in Brisbane with the child's father and their two older children, aged seven and five.

Murray Watt, of Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, representing the family of baby Ferouz. Photo: Marissa Calligeros

But the family has been told they will be transferred to a Darwin detention centre on Saturday morning.

The family's lawyer fears their future will be bleak if they are moved from Brisbane where baby Ferouz continues to receive medical treatment and while an application for his Australian citizenship is outstanding.

However, lawyers for Immigration Minister Scott Morrison told the court on Friday afternoon that the family had been assessed as "fit to travel" and needed to be moved to allow another asylum-seeker family on Nauru to be transferred to Brisbane for medical reasons.

"Two families are awaiting transfer from Nauru ... but there is only one spare family room at this [Brisbane] facility," barrister Amelia Wheatley said.

She said baby Ferouz and his family would continue to receive the medical treatment they required in Darwin.

"The facility there is able to deal with these matters," she said.

Latifar with her newborn baby. Photo: Max Reithmuller, Refugee Action Coalition

The court heard Brisbane's detention centre, which currently houses 68 asylum seekers, was designed only for temporary stays.

However, lawyers for the family say there is no apparent reason the other families cannot be transferred elsewhere in Australia, while baby Ferouz and his family are allowed to stay in the same city as their legal representatives and doctors.

Murray Watt, of Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, says baby Ferouz continues to suffer respiratory problems, while the couple's daughter has severe intellectual disabilities.

"He [Ferouz] has not been growing in the way that you would expect a newborn baby to do. He has had feeding difficulties," said Mr Watt, who has taken carriage of the case on a pro bono basis.

"More recently he has had some pretty large discharge coming from one of his eyes that he had to get dome medical attention for and at this point is undiagnosed."

The family was told on Wednesday afternoon that it would be moved to Darwin at 9am on Thursday, before lawyers negotiated a two-day extension of their stay.

"I can't help thinking that perhaps at least one of the motivations for the government is to remove the family to a much smaller town, with a much smaller media presence and to make it very difficult for this family to continue it's legal proceedings which are getting public attention," Mr Watt said.

He said baby Ferouz had a "clear cut case" for Australian citizenship, because his parents were stateless when he was born in Brisbane.

His parents' and siblings' citizenship would dependent on special consideration from the immigration minister.

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