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Government's attempt to strip medical treatment from refugees cruel and unnecessary

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Media Release Human Rights Law Centre | For immediate release: Monday 26 August 2019

Government’s attempt to strip medical treatment from refugees cruel and unnecessary

The Medevac laws are an important safeguard that is helping to ensure vital medical treatment for seriously unwell refugees held by the Australian Government on Nauru and Manus, the Human Rights Law Centre will tell a Senate inquiry today.

The Medevac laws, passed in February 2019, allow doctors to recommend people be evacuated from Manus and Nauru to Australia for medical treatment. Over 100 people have been approved for transfer to Australia in the six months of the laws operating.

Hugh de Kretser, Executive Director at the Human Rights Law Centre, who is giving evidence to the Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, said prior to the Medevac laws, sick refugees were forced to take legal action to access urgently needed medical treatment.

“Before the Medevac laws, people were forced to go to court to get the medical care they urgently needed. We were in court at all hours, on weekends and even on 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 These laws must not be repealed.”

“Forcing sick people to rely on the court system to get urgently needed medical treatment is not a good system of care in anyone’s books. We represented people in many cases where the Australian Government had refused to transfer women, men and children despite medical evidence of serious risks to their lives if they didn’t receive treatment. Every single case we filed was successful in obtaining a medical transfer, highlighting the seriousness of the medical conditions left untreated by the Australian Government.”

The Australian Government’s failure to provide proper medical care has led to tragic consequences. Twelve people died in offshore detention before the Medevac laws were passed. Most of those deaths were the result of physical or mental health conditions.

“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. Just last year a Queensland Coroner found that the death of Hamid

Khazaei from an infection after he cut his foot was entirely preventable, and that the Australian Government was responsible for the failures in medical care that led to his death.”

“The Medevac Laws are working. Removing a fair, transparent and doctor-led process for accessing essential, and in many cases, life-saving medical care is cruel and unnecessary. Repealing the Medevac laws will increase the risk of more people dying on Nauru and Manus.”

Under the Medevac laws, the Minister has an express ability to veto a medical transfer on national security or character grounds. The Minister has not refused any transfers on these grounds. The laws only apply to people in Australia’s offshore detention regime between July 2013 and March 2019. They do not apply to anyone who might arrive by boat in the future.

Read the Human Rights Law Centre’s submission to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee here.

Media contact:

Michelle Bennett, Communications Director, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519