Behrouz Boochani says lives at risk in PNG as Albanese Government ignores stranded refugees

Media Release
13 December, 2023

Behrouz Boochani joined a panel of refugee advocates in Melbourne today, to demand the Albanese Government stop ignoring calls for the urgent evacuation to Australia of 60 refugees stranded without food or medical care in Port Moresby.

The situation has worsened for refugees trapped in PNG in recent weeks, with many cut off from food, power, transport and medical care amid allegations of corruption and misuse of funds provided under a secretive agreement between the Australian and PNG governments.

The ASRC can confirm 11 urgent medevac briefs and 25 risk notifications have been sent to Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neill about escalating and life-threatening medical conditions facing several refugees.  All communications have been ignored.

At least 16 of the 60 refugees trapped in PNG  have acute physical and mental health conditions including  heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, liver issues, and some require urgent surgeries for life threatening conditions.  Many of the refugees also suffer debilitating mental health conditions including severe anxiety, depression, PTSD, psychosis and suicidality.

More than 500 doctors and health professionals have supported the call for urgent medical evacuation, detailed in an open letter delivered to Government officials at the end of November 2023.  

Medical professionals expressed grave concerns about the impact of deteriorating living conditions on people’s physical and mental health, and are alarmed some refugees are experiencing severe depression with recent self-harm attempts. The risk of suicide remains chronically high and unpredictable.

It has now been more than 7 weeks since Government officials in both PNG and Australia said the 16 refugees suffering serious health conditions would be brought to Australia for medical treatment. There have been no evacuations, and only 3 people have been resettled to Canada and the United States.

Behrouz Boochani, Author, Journalist and refugee formerly held on Manus Island:
“There is a long history of dehumanisation of refugees in this country. This violence has been normalised, but it is not normal, it should never be normal. When you dehumanise people, it is easy to kill them, torture them, starve them and banish them.

“This tragedy in Papua New Guinea has been created by the Australian Government, yet the Government says it is not responsible for refugees. The refugees came to seek asylum in Australia – you cannot just leave them behind.”

Faisal Elzeiny, refugee trapped in Port Moresby with his family:
“I don’t know what will happen, now that everything has finished. Food has finished and allowances have stopped, I’m scared about what’s to come.

“I need a good life for my kids, I need to protect my kids and feed my kids. What will I do, if now or next week service providers kick me outside my house? I will have to sleep with my wife and kids in the street. I don’t know why the Australian government is treating me like this.”

Heidi Abdel-Raouf, ASRC’s Detention Casework Policy Lead:
“The refugees in PNG are sending photos of empty fridges and reporting that they have no food, have not eaten for days and their children are going hungry.  They are feeling unwell but cannot pay for health care and access vital medications at the local hospital.

“People are becoming increasingly distressed, hopeless and despondent as they struggle to survive and face the uncertainty of a new year, with 2024 symbolising the eleventh year they have been held offshore.”

Dr Nilanthy Vigneswaran, Infectious Diseases Fellow and co-signer of open letter to Australian Parliament

“The situation for the refugees who remain trapped in Papua New Guinea,  for more than a decade, is unquestionably dire.  Without appropriate funding, basic humanitarian needs including food, water, electricity and housing are under threat, compounding the trauma they and their families have already experienced.

“These 60 men and their families trapped in PNG  must be urgently brought to Australia for their healthcare needs to be addressed. Appropriate and accessible medical care are not subject to the whims of Australia’s immigration policies – they are fundamental and undeniable human rights.”

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