In February 2019, historic legislation was passed by both Houses of Parliament which allowed the evacuation of people in urgent need of medical assistance from offshore detention. Since the bill became law, almost 50 patients have been approved for transfer, many of whom have repeatedly requested treatment over the last five years, and suffered significant deterioration in the meantime.
On 4th July, the new government tabled the Migration Amendment (Repairing Medical Transfers) Bill 2019, which attempts to repeal this crucial legislation and thus cut off an important lifeline to people in need of urgent medical treatment. The same day, the Bill was referred to a Senate inquiry. The relevant committee is due to report on Friday 18 October, meaning that the Senate will not debate the Medevac repeal legislation until the November sitting period. This news has come as a relief to many of us in refugee sector who have been working closely on transferring sick refugees to Australia where they have access to the treatment that has not been available in Nauru and PNG.
This Bill has been working well to achieve its purpose: to save the lives of desperately ill people in offshore detention. The Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) has been coordinating with members of the MedicalEvacuation Response Group and the broader sector to try and prevent this repeal. It’s now more crucial than ever that we continue to keep the pressure on and ensure that it remains intact in October.
We encourage member organisations and individuals who have worked with people offshore and have witnessed the life saving impacts of this law to put in a submission. Together we can highlight why the Medevac law should remain in place so that it is doctors who make decisions about people's medical treatment, not bureaucrats. ……..
Nothing about us without us: Refugee-led advocacy in Geneva
The growing impact of refugee-led advocacy and plans to use December’s first Global Refugee Forum to build momentum behind the Global Compact on Refugees were key themes of international meetings in Geneva attended by RCOA representatives over the past two weeks. Australian delegates raised refugee community concerns about unmet protection needs in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, and expressed concern about the harshest aspects of Australian refugee policy.
In response, UNHCR High Commissioner Filippo Grandi described Australia’s treatment of refugees on Manus Island and Nauru as a “festering wound”. RCOA supported refugee representatives Muzafar Ali and Fadak Alfayadh to participate in the meetings, assisted financially by Australia for UNHCR, Australian Council for International Development, MDA and Foundation House.
Muzafar Ali reflected on his own experience in Geneva saying:
"My experience with UNHCR-NGO Consultations has given me new energy and scope to work even harder as an advocate to proliferate the idea that refugees can be a part of the solution and not just labelled as a burden or problem."