Doctors, human rights lawyers and advocates have urged the Morrison Government to listen to expert advice about the need for doctors to be at the heart of medical assessments for sick refugees on Manus and Nauru, as the reporting deadline closes to the senate inquiry investigating the Medevac repeal bill.
Since the Medevac laws were introduced in February, the Medical Evacuation Response Group has assisted more than 90 people to be evacuated from offshore detention on Manus and Nauru for urgent medical treatment in Australia. Many men and women, who have been detained by the Australian Government for six years offshore, are still experiencing serious health conditions that cannot be treated on the islands, ranging from people who are acutely suicidal, to people with serious heart conditions. The Medevac laws allow Australian doctors to recommend to the Australian Government that seriously unwell people should be evacuated for critical treatment.
These laws have proven to be a critical and necessary mechanism to ensure that the urgent medical needs of women and men for evacuation are properly identified and met.
Dr Sara Townend:
“Since March, a small group of independent doctors has comprehensively assessed the burden of disease affecting a number of refugees and asylum seekers in PNG and Nauru, as well as the adequacy of the health systems they have access to. We have found the range of untreated health conditions are broad, that conditions which would be acute in Australia have become chronic due to lack of treatment.
It is clear that despite significant monetary expenditure, the health resources continue to be inadequate for even the most basic health needs. Provisions for medical evacuation remain crucial.”
Hugh de Kretser, Executive Director, Human Rights Law Centre:
“The Australian Government has failed to ensure proper medical care for the hundreds of people it holds on Manus and Nauru. It has ignored expert medical advice and people needing urgent medical help have died. Before the Medevac laws, people were forced to go to court to get the care they urgently needed. We were in court at all hours, on weekends and even Christmas Eve to secure medical evacuations. The Medevac laws work by putting doctors, not politicians, at the heart of decisions about people’s medical care. These laws must not be repealed.”
Sarah Dale, Principal Solicitor, Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS):
“Since 2015, RACS has been supporting a number of unaccompanied children who were transferred to Nauru. These children are now classed as adults and remain stuck there.
We have seen many of these young men deteriorate over the years, their health spiralling, broken by this broken system. Medevac provides a safety net for these young people ensuring they can access critical medical attention, which they have otherwise been denied.”
David Manne, Executive Director, Refugee Legal:
“In Refugee Legal’s experience as a key member of MERG, these laws have proven to be a critical and necessary mechanism to ensure that the urgent medical needs of women and men for evacuation are properly identified and met – and that Australian Government is able to act on expert medical advice to meet its duty of care to seriously unwell people on Manus and Nauru.”
Carolyn Graydon, Principal Lawyer, Manager of Human Rights Law Program:
“We watched men, women and children deteriorate as the Government opposed doctors and lawyers every step of the way to block medical transfers. The Medevac process works because government and doctors work together to prioritise treatment that saves lives.”
Paul Power, CEO The Refugee Council of Australia:
“The Medevac legislation has helped people with serious medical issues get access to life saving treatments in Australia. Since the law passed, people with serious heart problems, severe mental health issues, uncontrolled diabetes at risk of going blind, people who were at risk of losing functions of their limbs, to name just some of the conditions, have been given access to treatment. The Medevac Bill has saved lives and must not be repealed.”
The Medevac repeal bill was voted through the lower house in July and was referred to the Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Legislative Committee before going to a vote in the Senate. The Committee is due to report on 18 October.
The Medical Evacuation Response Group includes doctors working with the Refugee Council of Australia, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Asylum Seekers Centre Sydney, Human Rights Law Centre, Refugee Legal, National Justice Project, Refugee Advice and Casework Service, Amnesty International Australia and more.