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Medevac Bill - a matter of life or death

"If not transferred to Australia, they will be on the streets of our capital city, their days numbered at the hands of thugs or as a result of starvation and sickness"  - Fr Giorgio Licini


PORT MORESBY - The debate rages on about the possible repeal of the so-called Medevac Bill in the Australian Senate.

The politically divisive legislation came into force in March this year allowing about 140 seriously ill asylum seekers and refugees to seek medical treatment in Australia from the offshore processing centers of Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

The legislation is now under threat and being debated in the Australian Senate.

Its fate rests in the hands of a lone independent cross-bencher, Senator Jacqui Lambie, who has not yet announced whether she will vote to retain the medical evacuations in their present form or vote to return to a harsher earlier system.

Being based in Port Moresby, I wouldn’t know what the benefits are for patients transferred to Brisbane or Melbourne.

I certainly hope that mental issues, for example, would be treated by means of a broader therapy than antidepressants and sleeping tablets as happens in PNG.

I also hope that all the men with heart, lung, kidney, skin and other serious problems observed here are properly taken care of.

In spite of everybody’s efforts, even the best medical facilities and services in Port Moresby remain far behind standard, both in terms of sophisticated equipment and capabilities for addressing complex and concurrent health issues.

Such a situation eventually results in the untimely death of the men transferred from Manus, as it does for local residents.

The Australian medical bill has certainly benefitted the asylum seekers and refugees. Previous transfers were more limited in numbers and restricted to extremely serious and life-threatening circumstances.

Medevac has saved lives. Not that people would necessarily always have died here, but their conditions would have deteriorated to a point of significantly shortening their days.

This emergency is not over. I estimate that a few dozen asylum seekers and refugees in Port Moresby are extremely unwell both physically and mentally.

Those who have reached a non-return level of mental illness are effectively dead men walking.

If not transferred to Australia, as soon as the offshore saga is over they will be on the streets of our capital city, their days numbered at the hands of thugs or as a result of starvation and sickness.

I believe that there are at least half a dozen men experiencing these conditions at the Bomana Immigration Centre. They have been in total isolation since 12 August 2019. More are at other accommodation facilities in the city.

These numbers will grow exponentially if the Medevac Bill is repealed and the medical path to Australia shut down by the Australian government.

The Medevac Bill is not a resettlement pathway. Its purpose is just to help evacuate to safety those asylum seekers and refugees who have descended into an extremely sad state of health.

Some of them have been treated for years in PNG at a high cost to the Australian taxpayer but with no permanent benefit. Lately there have been many suicide attempts.

Generally speaking the Paladin security guards can be credited for prompt intervention and zero loss of life over the last couple of years. I am told that the Bomana Immigration Centre is equipped with massive camera surveillance to avoid any serious occurrence.

There are about 270 ex-Manus men left in Port Moresby. We can realistically expect that 100 of them will be resettled to the United States in the next few months.

Of the remaining 170 or so, about 100 are refugees who were not accepted by the US and have no other option at the moment. About 70 are asylum seekers (47 of them incarcerated at Bomana), who have refused repatriation in spite of significant financial incentives.

Only the Medevac Bill can ensure survival for each one of these young people, and prevent the risk of them dying on the streets of Port Moresby sometime in the future.

I believe none will be kept out of Australia or other resettlement country for character reasons. The fact is that the ex-Manus men, whom I regularly see in Port Moresby, come from very troubled countries of Africa and the Middle East, where there are a lot of bad people doing horrible things.

But those who arrived here are the good guys who ran away from the bad guys.

The Medevac Bill helps. Australia can scrap it, but only if the day before it has taken in those few dozen exhausted and desperate people.

Australia knows very well that the boats won’t come back because of them. The government already has agreements with South-East Asian governments, police and security forces.

Furthermore, an effective naval blockade is in place to deter human trafficking and avoid deaths at sea.

There are no new asylum seekers arriving by boat, and haven’t been since December 2013.

Isolating these few hundred in offshore detention will go down in history as cruel and even criminal.

If Australia repeals the Medevac Bill by mustering enough votes in the Australian Senate, it must accept full responsibility for the deaths of these men.


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Anne Shay

Thank God for your efforts for these men Fr Giorgio. You give us hope. Blessings.

Garry Roche

Giorgio - Many thanks for this information. Unfortunately it can be so easy to overlook and forget about these people. Keep up your efforts to help the refugees and to bring their plight to our attention.

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