Labor and Liberals vote together against a Bill that would have evacuated refugees from PNG and Nauru

Media Release
March 8, 2023

The Albanese Government along with the Liberal Party opposition and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party voted together against the Migration Amendment (Evacuation to Safety) Bill 2023, which would offer urgent evacuation to the 160 refugees still held offshore in PNG and Nauru, in the Senate today.

The Bill was introduced by Greens Senator Nick McKim. Independent Senators David Pocock and Lidia Thorpe voted in support of the Bill.

Since the repeal of the Medevac Law 2019, the only pathway for refugees to access urgent medical care is through an emergency transfer process that is chaotic and convoluted.

ASRC has seen cases of refugees being approved for medical evacuation for critical health issues while held offshore waiting years for evacuation or not being evacuated at all, with no reason provided.

Since May 2022 ASRC has submitted 34 risk notifications to the Australian Border Force and International Health and Medical Services. The ABF responded to none of these, and IHMS to around half, however their responses were often generic, bureaucratic and unhelpful – it was never clear when a person would be transferred for medical treatment.

The Albanese Government has publicly stated it wants to have no one held offshore by the end of the year. This Bill would have provided a humane, fair and efficient way for the Government to evacuate refugees held offshore after a decade of harm.

While refugees have been evacuated from Nauru under the Albanese Government, some to New Zealand as part of a deal agreed to under the Morrison Government, there has been little change in the number of people held in PNG.

14 people subject to offshore processing have died over the previous decade, and many of these deaths were due to treatable illnesses. These deaths could have been prevented if the government had transferred people to Australia for urgent medical care in a timely and fair manner.

Jana Favero, Director of Advocacy and Campaigns, at the ASRC said: “Make no mistake the Labor and Liberal parties after 10 years are still playing politics with the lives of refugees. They have gotten so lost in the politics of fear and division that they just voted against medical care and human rights.

Neither major party in their speeches nor in their committee report acknowledged even once the refugees who had been subjected to these cruel policies for the past decade. To acknowledge the pain inflicted on refugees by both Labor and Liberal governments, as well as the strength and courage of refugees in the face of such injustice, would also be to acknowledge they are human. But the current system can only continue if refugees are dehumanised and invisible.”

The following are quotes from refugees held offshore or recently evacuated, to read more about their stories read ASRC’s submission concerning this Bill, here.

Qarar, a refugee held in Nauru recently transferred, said: “In February 2021, 14 people were on a flight to Sydney, the ABF that night called me, [saying] ‘you are not on this flight, you will be on the next flight,’ and then nothing happened. I cannot tolerate this situation anymore, I am suffering, please help me.”

Mohammad, a refugee and Hazara from Afghanistan held in PNG, said: “My hopes are to be with family, find work, stand on my own feet, feel independent and feel like a human. To have a peaceful life. Just do not forget us and hopefully, you can help us get out of this situation. We are stuck and cannot do anything to change our life for the better.”

Said, a refugee recently transferred to Australia from Nauru for medical treatment, four years after a recommendation for transfer, said: “When I was in Nauru, it closed my mind and brain. Now in Australia, my brain has started working again. I didn’t know the taste of life and future until I came to Australia.”

Hussien, a refugee recently transferred to Australia from Nauru for medical treatment, two years after a recommendation for transfer, said: “When we go to the hospital they are tortured – they are pointing to each other – Republic of Nauru (RON) hospital say go to IHMS and IHMS say go to RON, they are pointing to each other. They treated us like animals they didn’t give chance to explain our problem.”

Shariff, a refugee held in Nauru, said: “It is important to get evacuated because we do not get any treatment here in Nauru. Last year I had a fever, and I went to RPC1 to meet the doctor, it was very hot – they called the police, and not the doctor, they threw me in the car and tore my clothes.”

Hiren, a refugee recently transferred to Australia from Nauru for medical treatment, said: “People are getting crazy. Health issues are worsening. People are scared for their safety. Locals swear at refugees. Get people out of this situation please. They are under a lot of stress and face a great uncertainty. Pay attention to the corruption and torture that is continuing to go on in offshore detention.”

Rajah, a Tamil refugee held in Nauru, said: “I need both mental health and physical health care. I want to receive proper treatment and not go to Canada as a sick person. I will not be able to look after myself if my health issues are not resolved. I could get proper treatment in Australia. Every day is a struggle and suffering.”

Jamal a refugee held offshore, said: “Everyone here in detention is ill and they need treatment in Australia before they are resettled to a third country. We may not be able to receive proper treatment in the country of resettlement as there may be issues with lost or inconsistent medical records. We need treatment immediately in Australia.”

Ishmael, a refugee held in PNG, said: “We have been living in this situation for 10 years with no proper medical facilities. The Australian government is spending a lot of money on health care and security, but we are not getting the care and support we need, we are dying here and we are not getting the support we are supposed to have.”

Nur Mohammad, a refugee recently transferred to Australia from Nauru for medical treatment, said: “I come here now and I got the treatment, I feel a little better now. But do something, not just for me but for everyone else, for the next generation. We all have family, we have the same blood, we are human. For the next generation too. I want to see justice for my friends in Nauru and PNG. Open your hearts and minds and do something.”


Media contact: Sam Brennan or 0428 973 324

If this content has raised any issues you can call Lifeline on 13-11-14 for 24 hour confidential crisis support.


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