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Asylum seekers who were injured, pregnant or ill while in detention on Christmas Island are suing the federal government for neglecting to provide proper medical care.
They say the government and Immigration Minister Scott Morrison should compensate any asylum seeker who was injured, pregnant or had an existing condition made worse while detained on Christmas Island over the past three years.
They're also seeking an order that asylum seekers be removed from Christmas Island so they can receive appropriate medical care.
They say the government has failed to keep track of the medical needs of asylum seekers or ensure adequate medication was available.
It also destroyed medicine asylum seekers had in their possession when they arrived in Australia without recording who had what, according to the class action filed with the Victorian Supreme Court yesterday.
The government and Mr Morrison have three weeks to respond to the allegations.
Comment is being sought from Mr Morrison.
Maurice Blackburn principal Jacob Varghese, who is acting for the asylum seekers, said there is a substantial body of evidence pointing to widespread failings for people in detention on Christmas Island.
"When you take responsibility for other human beings' circumstances the way the Commonwealth has taken charge of asylum seekers' entire lives, you take on board a host of responsibilities to make sure they're cared for, and we're alleging that's been breached," Mr Varghese said.
He said the health of too many asylum seekers is "being severely compromised by being in detention".
Christmas Island is in the grips of a mental health crisis, he said, and he was aware of 11 suicide attempts there.
Maurice Blackburn estimates there could be thousands of potential claimants, including former detainees and children.
The lead plaintiff in the class action is a six-year-old girl, known only as AS, who has suffered ongoing dental infection, allergies, separation anxiety and bed-wetting.
Sister Brigid Arthur, who is acting as AS's litigation guardian, said children who are kept in detention deteriorate rapidly.
"What we are doing on the whole is re-traumatising people who have already been traumatised somewhere else in the world, and that is cruel at the very least," Sr Arthur said.
Mr Varghese said because of the poor standard of medical care, things that would be trivial on the mainland, such as dental problems, become major issues on Christmas Island.