A report by the Department of Home Affairs has described this week that asylum seekers on Papua New Guinea are self-harming and attempting suicide following the introduction of the Medevac law earlier this year. The Home Affairs Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2018 or commonly known as the Medevac bill is designed to ensure timely and life-saving medical care is provided to people in offshore detention. This law was passed against the Coalition’s wishes and have pledged to repeal the legislation.
I don’t think I can phrase my response in an appropriate and sophisticated matter. It makes ZERO sense. Australia has consistently failed in its response to the refugee crisis, and if this law is repealed, that will be another occasion where Australia utterly neglects the needs of refugees.
The Department of Home Affairs stated that there had been an upward trend in self-harm attempts following the introduction of the Medevac legislation in February. However, Human rights lawyers have rejected the claims, arguing that there had been 12 people killed in offshore detention centres before the Medevac legislation was introduced.
The Department further stated that 72 people had been transferred to Australia under the legislation since February. Let me repeat that again. ONLY 72 people have been transferred to Australia. Out of those 72, 39 had carried out an act of self-harm and 19 had threatened to self-harm since the implementation of the laws. The concern is that self-harm is perceiving as the most expedient means of accessing medical transfer under the provision and that it may create the false perception of a pathway to settlement in Australia. This is insanity.
If people are so desperate to achieve freedom that they would be willing to kill or seriously injure themselves, we must assist them. We must open our doors and welcome them, provide them with the support they require and attempt to integrate them within society. The thought of self-harm or suicide is not rational, it suggests an extremely deteriorated mental state, and we must support them. If a person in Australia were suffering from the same condition, they would have access to services, support and other facilities to assist them in rehabilitation. Why should it be any different for refugees in our offshore detention centres?
This is the time when many Australians magically become hyper-nationalist and resort to the argument, “I don’t want other people coming to my country” or “They are going to take my money and jobs”. These statements are inherently false, these people want safety and security. These people want to live in a place where there is no persecution, and they don’t fear for their life each time they wake up.
Furthermore, I emphasised the statistic that only 72 had been transferred under the new legislation. Personally, I would love to see many more refugees accepted into Australia, but at least this is a start. When the bill was passed, MP’s argued that “a wave of refugees would enter into Australia”. I don’t know about you, but 72 people in 6 months doesn’t sound like “a wave of people?” These are people who are in desperate need of health support, and we must continue to assist them.
Human Rights lawyer, David Manne, commented on the recent report by stating, “The dangerous deterioration of health conditions has been caused by six years of inhumane and degrading limbo and grave medical neglect- not by recent laws to better respond to this crisis”. The issues present within the offshore detention centres have been cultivating for many years, and the repeal of the current medevac legislation would be devastating for all involved.
The knowledge of the law being repealed, and no chance of future release would be debilitating for refugees and would only exasperate the current humanitarian crisis present in the detention centres.
There are over 70 million refugees in the world today. This number is increasing rapidly and will only continue to impact all people negatively. However, currently, Australia must start to recognise the importance of protecting the lives of refugees, and that begins with the refugees under our control. There are 493 refugees in Papua New Guinea and 319 on Nauru who remain Australia’s responsibility.
So what happens now?
This would be my challenge to Scott Morrison. Go and visit Nauru. See the conditions and speak to the refugees. Hear their stories. Ask them questions. Then spend some time thinking about the best decision for all involved because these people urgently need help.
If Australians are ever going to change their opinion on climate change, it is going to have to come from the top. Politicians need to become informed about refugees, not base their judgements on assumptions but understand that NO refugee wants to come to Australia. Once this realisation is made and is professed publicly, that is when public opinion can begin to change slowly. At the moment, it is incredibly difficult to change public opinion when the government is so steadfast on the neglection of refugees.
This is my final plea:
Australian government, if you don’t want to accept refugees into Australia than you have only one more option. Invest in Nauru. Increase the amount of foreign aid and use it to invest in Uganda and Syria who have millions of refugees living in their countries. Set-up the facilities and structures in Nauru to support the refugees. Not a ‘fancy detention centre’ but a home. Invest in other countries to help improve the position of refugees in their countries. Help in setting up shelters, education programs, and political communication. Invest in non-government organisations who aim to support refugees overseas practically. If you don’t want to accept refugees, the ONLY other option is to help them internationally.
I will end this article with the same line I do with every post on refugees, and with the line I will always end with when I talk about refugees.
Scott Morrison: ‘Refugees don’t have a choice, but you do.’