Some lessons are learned too late. For refugee Hamid Khazaei, who died of sepsis contracted on Manus Island, belated reforms can no longer help. Reflecting on his death, the Queensland State Coroner earlier this year could not have been clearer in his findings. That bureaucrats and politicians should never be allowed to override a clinical decision made by a medical doctor. That Australia retains responsibility for those it has relocated under so-called “offshore processing” in Papua New Guinea and Nauru. That had he been evacuated to Australia within 24 hours of developing severe sepsis, Khazaei would have survived. He was 24 years old.
On Thursday, Parliament will rise for the year. It must first address this crisis.
On Monday, Kerryn Phelps will introduce the Urgent Medical Treatment Bill. It should be passed. The health of refugees and asylum-seekers under Australia’s so-called “offshore processing” has first gradually declined and then plummeted. With the passage of more than five years, an absence of solutions and a slow onset health emergency, Australians have become increasingly uncomfortable, confronted by facts that can no longer be ignored. Impartial medical advice has exposed the human implications of a policy that was always sold too simplistically in political and cynical terms. The issue is not a matter of politics, but of basic human treatment and decency.
Even to those of us who are not doctors, the human tragedy of this policy has become ever more apparent.
The medical evidence surrounding “offshore processing” is overwhelming. As early as 2016, UNHCR’s consultant medical experts found cumulative rates of anxiety, depression and PTSD among refugees transferred to both Papua New Guinea and Nauru to exceed 80%. Things are indisputably worse since then. Independent expert bodies from the Australian Medical Association to MSF International have repeatedly expressed their concern and alarm.