Earlier this month, four-year-old “M” and his family, who are asylum seekers from Iran, were moved out of their air-conditioned accommodation inside the Nauruan detention facility.
This is the third Christmas the infant will spend on Nauru — the island prison where he has lived for almost all of his short life.
On Christmas night — as every night — his bed will be a mat on the floor of a tent, now sweltering without air-conditioning.
When children detained on Nauru turn four (as M did in October), they and their family are moved from living in air-conditioned tents to non air-conditioned ones.
I say “tent” but, it would be more accurate to describe the accommodation as a “marquee” — one made of white vinyl and measuring 10m x 12m.
This distinction, though, is largely arbitrary, much like the decision to move a child away from the comfort of air conditioning, in spite of tropical heat, simply because they’ve had their fourth birthday.
Dr Barri Phatarfod, co-founder of Doctors for Refugees, says there is “no sound basis” for the rule, especially when children of M’s age are “still very susceptible to dehydration, which is almost inevitable in the 40 plus degree temperature often reached in the detention camps.”
“Dehydration in children can progress extremely quickly – it often happens even in Australian cities – and the focus is on keeping the child cool and hydrated to avoid organ damage or failure,” she told Mamamia.
Other symptoms include listlessness, poor urine output, headaches and dizziness.
“When that is combined with one of the frequent gastroenteritis infections spreading through the camps or any limitation in clean drinking water, the health of all the children as well as that of pregnant women and people already unwell, becomes a major worry,” Dr Phatarfod said.