Tuesday, June 7, 2022
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Time for a better plan for the fair treatment of refugees

Faysal had been transferred to the hospital from Manus Island, Papua New Guinea shortly before his death, but it was too late. He had been suffering heart and other health problems for more than six months before his death. His family, and more than 200 of his fellow detainees at the Australian immigration detention centre, assert that the contracted healthcare provider, IHMS, failed to provide Faysal with adequate care for his condition.

Unfortunately, this preventable and tragic loss of life under the watch of Australia’s Immigration Minister is not a one-off incident. We’ve seen similar tragedies before. About two years ago another refugee, Hamid Khazaei, a 24-year-old Iranian man, suffered severe sepsis from a cut on his foot and died after medical care was delayed and inadequate. Every day the physical and mental health of detainees in the “open air” prisons run by the Australian government on Manus Island and Nauru is deteriorating. People are driven to the absolute brink, largely because they’re trapped and are facing debilitating uncertainty about their future.

Amnesty International’s top investigator, Anna Neistat, visited Nauru in July 2016 and found that refugees and people seeking asylum are routinely neglected and at times denied medical care by IHMS.

During her time on the island she carried out interviews with almost 60 people, including men, women and children, who told her that since the Australian government forced them to be on Nauru many people had begun to repeatedly self-harm, cutting their hands, banging their heads against the wall and refusing to speak to anybody for months. In some cases they did not recognise their relatives and stayed in bed for weeks, refusing to go outside or take showers.

She found that children had begun to wet their beds, suffered from nightmares, and in some instances had stopped speaking to people outside of their immediate families.

The people who Australia has warehoused on Manus and Nauru cannot wait a moment longer for a humane solution and the death of Faysal just a few weeks ago should be a stark reminder of this. Amnesty International is calling for the immediate closure of these processing operations and for every person seeking asylum and all refugees on Nauru and Manus to have the right to come to Australia immediately.

The consistent bipartisan focus by political parties in Canberra on a policy of “deterrence” and “stopping the boats” has stifled the opportunity for policies that both protect the human rights of people seeking asylum and prevent avoidable deaths – twin goals which should be the bedrock of any asylum seeker policy.

And now, the situation is out of control. People who came to us seeking safety are instead suffering in our name. The truth that politicians don’t want us to know is that we can protect our borders while at the same time offering safety to those who need our help. And we can benefit from the contributions new Australians make to our community.

According to media reports appearing in The Age newspaper, Faysal Ahmed was a man who fled Sudan in 2013 after refusing to join the same militia that had tortured him, killed several members of his family and raped his sister. He was also a father to a baby boy, and a husband. He should not have died on Australia’s watch; he should not have died at all.

We’re a decent country. We’ve got it in us to show common sense and to solve problems. And the fact of the matter is there are sensible solutions out there, we simply need our government to start paying attention to them.

To play our part in making our world a better place, we must have a better plan to shoulder our fair share of responsibility. Locking up people on far off islands or pushing people back to harm doesn’t face up to the challenges we and other countries must deal with.

We need to put cooperation with our neighbours – as part of normal trade and diplomatic business – at the heart of a long-term, common sense plan for the fair treatment of refugees.

Australia must step up to make sure that the most vulnerable people are resettled, within our region and globally. By doing this we can reduce the pressure on individual countries by working closely with the likes of New Zealand, Japan, the USA, Canada and others to ensure everyone does their bit.

The government should consider immediate and practical measures such as boosting Australia’s aid program to help neighbouring countries support refugees better. Because when people are legally recognised, have safe accommodation, can send their kids to school and can work and access health services, they won’t be forced to make dangerous journeys to try and reach Australia.

And, in order to give people seeking asylum hope, we should commit to assessing refugee applications within a defined time period. When people know they’ll be assessed in an efficient and orderly way, they are less likely to make a dangerous boat journey.

We can’t wait for next Christmas to roll around in order to show goodwill to our fellow humans. It’s time we stopped letting politicians create havoc with people’s lives and got on with a long-term, common-sense plan for the fair treatment of refugees.



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