Detention Harms Health march

Name of the activity: Detention Harms Health march

Country/NMO: Australia (AMSA)

Program: Ethics & Human Rights in Health

Contact information: [email protected]

Type of the activity: Advocacy. Series of efforts with the goal to influence policies or decision makers on a certain topic.

General description:

The Detention Harms Health march was a public march staged by medical students and health professionals across New South Wales, Australia. The march was held on April 7, 2018 in Hyde Park Sydney and featured speeches from doctors and humanitarian lawyers as well as a person with lived refugee experience. The campaign was built up over a five month period, starting with a series of open letters to the Australian government, and the march was followed by social media activity, numerous news articles, and a follow-up call out from medical students to members of parliament.

Focus area:

Refugee health

Problem statement:

Australia’s policy of mandatory, indefinite offshore detention for refugees and asylum seekers is deleterious to their health and wellbeing. People kept in detention on Nauru and Manus Island lack access to basic medical services resulting in delayed care, emergency transfers and unnecessary suffering. The mental health of the men, women and children in these facilities is dire with high rates of self harm and suicide but no appropriate psychiatric services available on site.

Target groups:

General population, Medical students, Healthcare Students, Doctors, Other health professionals, Refugees


Migrants, Refugees

Objectives and indicators of success:

1. To raise awareness about the harms of Australia’s offshore detention policies on the health of refugees and asylum seekers, using the voice of health professionals/medical students to drive the message of ‘Detention Harms Health.’ (Indicators: number of people attending the march, number of medical schools represented, number of media articles published as a measure of increase in public awareness, social media likes, shares)

2. To call the Australian government to allow an independent medical assessment on Nauru and Manus Island, to guarantee necessary medical services are provided (Indicators: number of replies from the Department of Home Affairs to our letters, changes in policy – number of refugees/asylum seekers transferred out of offshore detention)

3. To encourage other medical bodies (e.g. Royal College of Physicians, Australian Medical Association) to take a stronger, more vocal stance against health conditions on Manus and Nauru and to call on the Australian government to allow an independent medical assessment (Indicators: number of professional bodies participating in the march, number of official statements released by RACP, AMA etc. before/during/after the march)


Medical students across New South Wales, Australia collaborated over a 5 month period (Nov 2017 – April 2018) to organise a public march on April 7 in the Sydney CBD. Over 400 medical students and health professionals dressed in scrubs attended the march. The march featured speeches by doctors and lawyers with experience working on Manus Island/Nauru or assisting medical cases. A representative from an NGO shared her lived experience as a refugee from Rwanda.

The march was accompanied by campaigns before and after the event. From Nov 2017, Crossing Borders wrote letters to the Australian Department of Home Affairs explaining our position and requesting information about the status of medical care on Manus Island and Nauru. This included photos of medical students across Australia holding signs saying “Detention harms health.”

Plans for evaluation:

Social media was a significant tool used throughout this campaign to engage medical students, other young people, and collaborating organisations. The use of Facebook Insights in particular allowed tracking of number of post likes and shares, which increased substantially during the lead-up to the march. On twitter, the #detentionharmshealth hashtag trended and tweets could be followed (posts, retweets) from organisations, journalists and members of the general public.

An estimation of the number of attendees was made on the day as 450 people, as well as 50 people at the Ai Wei Wei photo after the march. This could be checked using photos that included the entire contingency of the march.

In the weeks to months following the march, numerous interviews and articles were published online which also suggested levels of public engagement and awareness.

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