Politics, The World

Australia is denying essential medical care to its asylum seekers

Authorities were first informed of a woman with preeclampsia in December 2016.

While America’s president may be debating the merits and cost of a wall on the Mexican border, Australia effectively already has one – because it is surrounded by water. The only way asylum seekers can get to Australia is by boat, and if they even make it that far, they are sent to offshore detention centers on Nauru and Manus Island for processing. As the Guardian has reported, such offshore processing is “bleak dysphemism because no genuine resettlement ever takes place“.

A Brief History

Australia has been using Nauru and Manus Island to process asylum seekers since 2001, under a policy named The Pacific Solution. They were closed in 2008, but reopened in 2012, and are still open to this day. Nauru is about 3000 kilometres away from the Australian mainland, and Manus Island is 3000 kilometres away from the nearest Papua New Guinean island.

Multiple agencies, including the UNHCR and Amnesty International, have denounced the camps and the conditions in which these asylum seekers are kept. The Human Rights Watch has also condemned the use of these detention centers, stating that men, women, and children all “suffer severe abuse, inhumane treatment, and neglect” while on Nauru. It is important to note that people who travel into Australia by plane are not subjected to the same conditions – this is only for people who arrive by boat.

Asylum seekers Nauru tents
Living conditions for people on Nauru
Attribution: The Australian

Michael Bochenek, a senior counsel for children’s rights, has stated that “Driving adult and even child refugees to the breaking point with sustained abuse appears to be one of Australia’s aims on Nauru.” This statement echoes information provided by Liz Thompson, a former migration agent who was told to lie to refugees about their status, and described “Manus Island (as) an experiment in the ultimate logic of deterrence, designed to frustrate the hell out of people and terrify them so that they go home”. Given these descriptions of the conditions on both Nauru and Manus Island, it is no wonder that basic medical care there is woefully inadequate.

Denial of Medical Care

In 2014, Hamid Kehazaei died of a simple skin infection on Manus Island – because it was left untreated, and developed into septicaemia. A sixth of the population on Manus Island contract malaria every year, and medical professionals who have worked on the island have stated that the medical centres on Manus are “a disaster, medically”. The conditions on Nauru are about the same. Children are left untreated, and there are even reports of a four year old child in an almost catatonic state, refusing to eat or drink.

Medical care for pregnant women, then, is virtually non existent. In May 2016, a Somali woman was flown to Australia for treatment after she had an preeclamptic fit that rendered an emergency caesarean necessary. She was left on Nauru for more than three months with preeclampsia, and was only transported to Australia after her child had been born in Nauru, where she was eventually stabilised.

It is just over six months later, and it seems as though a sick, pregnant woman faces the same fate.

Five different doctors have assessed this particular pregnant woman, and diagnosed her with preeclampsia. This condition, as per its name, is a precursor to eclampsia, which can be potentially life threatening for both mother and baby. It is well known that Nauru does not have the appropriate medical facilities to assist women with these conditions, and that Nauruan women are flown to nearby countries such as Singapore, Fiji, or Australia if they do need treatment.

President for Doctors for Refugees, Doctor Barri Phatarfod, stated that “Anyone in a situation where they are 36 weeks pregnant with high blood pressure should be treated as an urgent situation”, and that there has been very little done for the pregnant woman since authorities in Australia were informed of her condition in December 2016.

Children holding protest signs
Children protesting on Nauru
Attribution: Hazara Asylum Seekers

As of 31 January, the woman has reportedly been flown to Australia for medical treatment, but the appalling conditions on both Nauru and Manus Island still persist. In April 2016, Papua New Guinean courts ruled that the detention of asylum seekers is illegal, but no big moves have been made to close down these camps. Despite this, the Refugee Council of Australia, amongst other humanitarian causes in Australia, continues to fight for the settlement and human treatment of people who have sought asylum in Australia.

Personally, I think this behaviour is appalling. Many of these people have been deemed to be genuine refugees, yet the two main parties in Australia seem intent on keeping these people in the conditions detailed above. Given the recent uproar regarding the refugee swap deal with the United States, the #bringthemhere campaign has shot into prominence yet again. The majority of Australians, many of whom are immigrants themselves, want to see these people safely resettled. It is time that the government acts accordingly.