The Fifth Column 

Australian Coroner’s Report a Refugee Tragedy

(HRW) – Hamid Khazaei was a fit and healthy young man when he arrived on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island in September 2013, transferred there by the Australian government under its draconian asylum-seeker policy.

Less than a year later, the 24-year-old Iranian was dead from septicemia after a sore on his leg became infected.


On July 30, a Queensland coronial investigation found that Khazaei’s death was “preventable” and resulted from “a series of clinical errors, compounded by failures in communication that led to poor handovers and significant delays in his retrieval from Manus Island.”

When Khazaei’s medical condition worsened and antibiotics were unavailable on Manus, doctors recommended urgent transfer to Australia. But bureaucrats dithered and eventually sent him to a hospital in Port Moresby, the PNG capital, where he received inadequate care and was left unattended for long periods of time. By the time Australian authorities transferred him to a Brisbane hospital, it was too late to save his life.

As the coroner found, Australia retains responsibility for the care of people it transfers to offshore processing countries where standards of health care don’t meet Australian standards. The coroner also found Khazaei was entitled to receive care broadly comparable with health services available in Australia. He did not receive that care.

Four years later, the 1,600 refugees and asylum seekers who remain on Manus and the island nation of Nauru do not receive that care. Every day these people are suffering because of the delays to proper specialized medical care. Medical care on Manus has deteriorated not improved since Khazaei’s death in 2014.  Long periods of detention, separation from loved ones, and prolonged uncertainty about their future have exacerbated mental health conditions, yet mental health services on Manus and Nauru are woefully inadequate.

Australian lawyers have repeatedly brought successful legal actions for refugees with medical conditions who need proper care and obtained court orders to bring them to Australia.  But these cases should not require legal action.

The solution is simple: get all of these people off these isolated islands once and for all, especially those with acute medical needs. In the meantime, the Australian government should follow the coroner’s recommendation that doctors working offshore should be the ones to approve medical transfers to Australia, not bureaucrats in Australia.

Image Source: Marko Mikkonen, Flickr, Creative Commons

The coroner also recommended that the attorney-general “ensure independent judicial investigation of deaths of asylum seekers transferred by the Australian government to regional processing countries.” Twelve people have died in Australia’s offshore processing centers. Australian officials should be held accountable for failing to protect those who remain in the government’s care – wherever they are.

Originally published by Human Rights Watch by Elaine Pearson

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