Government’s lack of care is endangering people in offshore detention on PNG during COVID-19 outbreak

Media Release
Tuesday, 30 March 2021

The Australian Government must immediately provide COVID-19 vaccines and adequate medical support to the people seeking asylum and refugees currently held in detention in Papua New Guinea or consider emergency medical evacuation.

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre is greatly concerned about the entirely insufficient care and support provided to around 130 refugees and people seeking asylum still held in offshore detention in PNG, under Australian government care, as the country goes through a severe COVID-19 outbreak.

There are currently over 5,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in PNG with a recorded 45 deaths, however, the actual case numbers are likely much higher, due to low testing rates. Around 13 refugees and people seeking asylum have tested COVID positive.

The country’s hospitals are also reporting they are in crisis, with the rapid increase in COVID case numbers in March, combining with staff, equipment and medical supply shortages,  as health-care workers suffer high rates of COVID-19 infections.

ASRC’s Detention Rights Advocacy Program (DRAP), through its support of more than 240 people in offshore detention on Nauru and PNG, has heard of numerous cases of refugees held in PNG receiving inadequate and even dangerous treatment from the Australian government.

This includes significant delays in COVID-19 testing, putting people with COVID-19 in situations where they cannot adequately self-isolate or access emergency medical care, if required, and putting people without COVID-19 in situations that risk exposure.

Basic COVID-19 health procedures have not been successfully implemented in Port Moresby, leading to a situation where already poor conditions have worsened for refugees and people seeking asylum held in hotels in the capital, many of whom have significant pre-existing health vulnerabilities.

Lack of preparation by the Australian Government for this situation in PNG has led to shortages of basic medicines among the refugees and has even led to a number of men going hungry. Many have reported a significant deterioration in their basic living conditions, including enduring blackouts and sanitation issues and having no access to the contracted casework services to address this.

The inability of the Australian Government to provide adequate care for people held in offshore detention in PNG starkly shows the need for a permanent resettlement plan for refugees, as well as an end to the arbitrary and punitive regime of indefinite detention.

A person seeking asylum detained in PNG said: “I was not able to self-isolate, I was not able to distance myself from other people, do I need to explain every bit of detail why I am unhappy about this?

When will we get the international standard required for medical practice? I don’t want to contribute to spreading of these infections nor I want to be infected.”

Jana Favero, Advocacy and Campaigns Director at ASRC said: “The current situation in PNG is yet another horrific example of policy failure, medical neglect and cruel treatment of people seeking asylum that has characterised the inhumane policies of offshore processing and indefinite, arbitrary detention.

The Morrison Government must not only provide immediate and comprehensive medical support for people in PNG but also stop nearly a decade of abject policy failure and ensure permanent resettlement for all refugees.”

Nina Field, ASRC detention advocacy caseworker said: “The situation for the men still held in hotels in PNG is deteriorating rapidly, with many fearful not just because of the spike in COVID, but for their safety as well, as tensions rise.

Many are saying they cannot even gain access to basic medication like painkillers and Vitamin C, let alone medication for blood pressure and mental health. They are sometimes even unable to get food and have not been provided with basic information on COVID-19 health and safety procedures. This is a recipe for disaster and the Australian government must act.”

Media contact:
Sam Brennan at 0428 973 324

Share Button
Leave a reply