Court highlights need for Medevac laws while UN experts urge Australian to provide vital medical care to critically ill people in offshore facilities.

June 22, 2019

Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) has welcomed this week’s Federal Court judgment, which held that the Federal Government must consider applications for refugees on Manus and Nauru made under the Medevac legislation which are made in accordance with ordinary Australian medical practices. ALHR President Kerry Weste said, “This decision recognises that people should not be denied appropriate medical treatment where it is not possible or practicable to have an in-person consultation, for example where they are unconscious or cannot access an appropriate interpreter or telecommunications services.”

“This judgment comes at a time when Australia has once again been internationally shamed over its inhumane treatment of people in our offshore detention facilities,” Ms Weste said. On Wednesday a group of eminent United Nations experts* issued a news release urging Australia to immediately provide appropriate health care to more than 800 asylum seekers and other refugees held in the country’s offshore facilities for the past five years and called on the Australian Government to immediately transfer those identified as requiring urgent medical attention to Australia.    

The UN has written to the Australian Government expressing deep concerns that the health of the people on Manus and Nauru have been deteriorating with fatal consequences. The have highlighted the fact that there have been multiple reports of self-harm and suicide attempts with an increase since 19 May 2019 after the Australian federal elections.

Ms Weste said, “It comes as no surprise that Australia is being condemned for its treatment of the children, women and men who have been held on Manus Island and Nauru – many for more than five years now – in deteriorating physical and mental health conditions. There can be no doubt that Australia is directly and flagrantly violating its international obligations under the Refugee Convention and other international human rights laws, including the absolute and comprehensive prohibition against torture.”

“We have to remember these are people who have committed no crime. They have an international legal right to seek asylum. Yet Australia has chosen to confine them for years, indeed indefinitely, in conditions that have been found on multiple occasions to amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment according to international standards. We do this to them based solely on their migration status.”

“Quite frankly, the Government’s response to these eminent international experts which claims “no one is denied appropriate health care,” lacks any credibility. People with ongoing serious and chronic illness have been left untreated for months and years, people’s teeth have rotted, pregnant women have been unable to access appropriate and timely medical care and people in desperate need of psychiatric care as a result of their treatment are engaging in horrific acts of self harm. Twelve people have lost their lives, including eight people who have died as a result of suicide and inadequate healthcare. ALHR is concerned this number will continue to rise if Minister Dutton succeeds in repealing or weakening the protection Medevac legislation,” said Ms Weste.

“As these UN human rights experts so rightly point out, Australia has the ultimate responsibility for these people. We must look for long-term solutions beyond the short-term, and short-sighted approaches currently employed in our  offshore facilities.”

“The Australian Government must urgently commit to ensure a safe and viable future for every person who has been transferred to Nauru and Papua New Guinea in line with Australia’s international human rights obligations.”

*The UN experts include: Felipe González Morales, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; Prof. Nils Melzer, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Dainius Pūras, the Special Rapporteur on the right to everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; and members of the UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination

Contact: Matt Mitchell, ALHR media manager 0431 980 365.