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JAM: Why was this mother separated from her 4-day-old baby?

31-year-old Latifa is an asylum seeker. (Supplied).

We do not write today because we are sad. Or because we are frustrated. Or because we feel despondent.

We write because we are angry and because we – like so many other Australians – are filled with white hot rage about what has occurred this week.

Let us tell you a story…

A woman gives birth in a country that is not her own.

She is there because she is desperate. She is there because she is afraid. She is there because if she had remained in her home country, she would have been condemned to a life well beyond the comprehension of our first world consciousness.

A woman gives birth in a country that is not her own.

To get there in the first place was a long and arduous journey. The woman spent years living in refugee camps, waiting, hoping, wishing that she and her loved ones would be next. That she and her loved ones would be chosen; that they would be given the opportunity to live a life that most of us take for granted.

A woman gives birth in a country that is not her own. And then her newborn son is taken away.

That country, is Australia.

Ask yourself this: What the hell have we become when our Government will deliberately separate a desperate woman from her newborn in order to make a political point? The words don’t feel like enough. Nothing expresses the shame and the anguish of knowing that we are responding to a family’s desperate plea for help, by further compounding their hurt.

Latifa and her family have previously been held on Nauru Island.

31-year-old Latifa is an asylum seeker who is currently living in a detention facility called Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodation. Before coming to Australia, Latifa spent almost a third of her life living in a refugee camp in Malaysia.

During the middle of last week she gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, and named him Farus. And then on Sunday afternoon Latifa was separated from her newborn by immigration officials and sent back to detention. She is now only allowed to see her baby for six hours a day. The rest of the time: She is locked up.

And to make this excruciatingly story even more heartbreaking: Farus is sick.

He has problems with his breathing, and at the moment needs to be under constant medical supervision. His mother’s accommodation is 20 minutes away from the hospital, and that is where her husband and other two children – aged four and seven – are also being held.

According to Fairfax reports today, Latifa’s husband Niza has not been allowed to see or visit his newborn son at all.

The days and weeks after a baby is born represent a crucial period of bonding for both mother and child – a time of bonding which Latifa and her son Farus are being denied. The fact that Farus is sick must mean that an emotional time is made only more gut-wrenchingly difficult.

This is a human rights issue.

Latifa and her family are alone in this country. They have no friends or relatives. They do not understand or, necessarily, trust the Australian medical system. They are frightened of what might happen to their son and they naturally want to be with him during this critical period in his young life.

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Latifa and her family came here seeking our country’s help.

But instead they have been met with seemingly inhumane treatment. For political purposes, to prove a point that they are ‘tougher’ on border protection than anyone before them, this Government have separated a distraught mother from her sick child.

The Coalition’s Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has defended the Government’s decision to keep the mother and her newborn son apart. According to a statement released by a spokesperson, it is “common practice” for mothers to not stay overnight in the hospital when a child is sick.

The horrors that this family have already been through are unimaginable.

And today our Government has not aided their suffering, they have added to it.

Labor’s Deputy Opposition Leader, Tanya Plibersek has criticised the decision to separate mother and son, saying that, “I think it’s very important for mother and baby to be allowed to be together to bond.”

Plibersek – also a mother of three – continued, “Those early hours and days are critical for the health of the mother and the baby, including for things like establishing breastfeeding, which we know is the best possible start to give any baby.”

What Latifa and her family have already been through while living in a refugee camp in Malaysia for close to a decade, preceded by cruel persecution in their home country, only exacerbates the cruelty of the Government’s actions.

Born and raised in Myanmar, Latifa is one of the Rohingya people who – according to the United Nations – are one of the most persecuted peoples in the world. The Rohingya people have been denied Burmese citizenship since 1982, and are not allowed to travel without specific permission, are forbidden to own land, and are forced to sign a commitment to not have more than two children.

Had Latifa been in her own country, she would have been separated from Farus the moment he was born and his fate would have been uncertain. Here in Australia, at least half of that has happened anyway.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison

Thankfully, according to reports Farus will be released from hospital sometime this afternoon. The newborn is well enough to return home and will be reunited with his mother and for the first time, be introduced to his father and siblings.

But where is home? Previously, Latifa and her family are being held in the offshore processing centre on Nauru and the Government insists that the whole family will be returning there.

Misha Coleman from the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce has said that, “This is a couple that had already been in a Malaysian refugee camp for 10 years. They have kids who have no proper schooling and no future, and they’ve already had a tough decade … It’s time for compassion.”

It is time for compassion indeed.

But we live in a country that sadly, appears to be very unlikely to give it. To this asylum seeker family – or to any other.

If you would like to express your dissatisfaction, you can tweet Immigration Minister Scott Morrison at @ScottMorrisonMP, or write to his office in parliament at PO Box 6022, House of Representatives, Parliament House, Canberra ACT 2600.

If you believe that keeping Latifa away from her newborn son is gross discrimination, please share this post to show your support. 

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