Waning Hope: A Refugee’s Response to the Repeal of Medevac

By Shamindan Kanapathi
Bill Chauvin

The decision to leave one’s country, to seek asylum, to become a refugee, is never an easy one; but Australia has taken our future, and made it our demise, a whole new level of tragedy.

Since our Australian ordeal began and we were transferred from Christmas Island to Manus Island, PNG life has been one unbearable disappointment and shock after another. The Medevac repeal, however, has hit those of us remaining offshore really hard. Already depleted of any remaining strength, the news has crippled us. Medevac was the last remaining hope for those who have been sick for years and have been waiting for appropriate treatment.

For the past six years of indefinite detention, systematic torture, lack of medical care and deliberate medical negligence has made most of us sick, both mentally and physically.

The Australian government’s policy of indefinite detention in order to protect their borders has directly caused this deterioration of our mental and physical health. This inhumane offshore policy is directly accountable for this deterioration and it is the Australian government’s responsibility to provide appropriate medical treatment for those who have been waiting for such a long time.

We never expected that the lifesaving Medevac legislation would be repealed. We hoped that transparency, duty of care, international responsibilities and moral obligation would overrule, but disappointingly our last standing hope for the timely and appropriate treatment of our ailments has been exhausted.

The Coalition, and their One Nation supporters, did their best to dispel the benefits of the Medevac legislation, and in doing so they have once again demonised the character of vulnerable asylum seekers. Over and over again in Parliament we heard ambitious politicians spewing this vile rhetoric of hatred towards refugees and asylum seekers, who as we know broke no law, simply sought Australia’s help the only way we could, by boat. In Parliament they attacked us, calling us terrorists, rapists, degrading our character. These common propaganda tactics are repeatedly used against us since our tragedy began back on July 19th, 2013.

The Australian government has made it clear that human rights and human lives don’t matter.

The key vote in the Senate, Jacqui Lambie, sealed the fate of the now repealed Medevac law, and in all honesty, we never expected she would vote to repeal the legislation. Not after all the research and investigations into the legislation and how it is a terrifyingly real medical emergency situation. Not after talking with doctors, and psychiatrists, advocates, and caseworkers, whistle-blowers and more did we expect Lambie to take the side of the Government. Yet she did vote with the Government to repeal the legislation.

The majority of Australians (60%) now support the Medivac legislation and did not wish for it to be repealed. Doctors and medical professionals had urged her not to support the Medevac repeal legislation. It is hard to believe that someone of Senator Lambie’s standing supported the government knowing that 12 deaths had already occurred as a direct result of the inhumane offshore detention protocol. Medical treatment is a fundamental basic human right — one that we have been denied for years.

The Home Affairs Minister has always had the power to prevent those who he alleges to be rapists or have criminal records or bad character from coming to Australia. Nevertheless, he continues to undermine us in order to stop sick refugees and asylum seekers coming to Australia to access appropriate treatment. This tyrannical act by the government must not be condoned internationally. The Australian government has made it clear that national security is its first priority and human rights and human lives don’t matter.

For the past six years indefinite detention has destroyed us; now the repeal of the Medevac legislation adds more weight to our already severely damaged health.

Over 5000 doctors and medical professionals have signed a petition urging the Australian Government to save the Medevac legislation; legislation which has been really effective in saving lives and stopping further harm. The politicians have simply denied our concerns and denied our human rights. Repealing the Medevac legislation shows how cruel and ignorant these politicians are prepared to be on refugee policy. We do not yet know what the consequences of repealing this lifesaving legislation will be, but whatever happens, the politicians are accountable for it.

Once again, vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers have been scapegoated, and used for the Australian government’s political agenda. We fear that this political exercise will lead to higher levels of self-harm and that suicide attempts will escalate.

The controversial deal that the Australian government is desperately trying to keep secret, raises suspicion and more fear among refugees and asylum seekers in PNG. The Australian government should reveal the truth about what is in the deal and be transparent about its actions. After over six and a half years, surely no one can begrudge a solution for us, an end to dehumanising refugees and asylum seekers.

These are very difficult times for us. We wish to extend our heartfelt gratitude and thanks to the lawyers, medical professionals, and advocates for fighting so hard for the lifesaving Medevac legislation; and the decent politicians who took such enormous efforts to pass the Medevac bill in February. We specifically thank those doctors and medical professionals who have supported sick people throughout the Medevac process, so that many of us were able to receive appropriate medical treatment. They have shown us compassion and humility and for that we will be forever grateful.