Both the House of Representatives and the Senate have now passed amendments to the Migration Act 1958 that allow for the medical evacuation of asylum-seekers from Manus Island and Nauru. These amendments are also known as the medivac bill.
So, how will the situation for asylum seekers and refugees on Manus Island and Nauru change with the provisions in place?
Missy Higgins makes an impassioned plea for compassion towards refugees on Q&A. Post continues after.
What’s in the Bill?
The medivac bill allows for the transfer of asylum seekers or refugees on Nauru or Manus Island to Australia for “medical or psychiatric assessment or treatment”. Family members will also be transferred if recommended.
It gives a clear pathway for medical specialists to make medical decisions. Two doctors must assess – either in person or remotely – the person and make the recommendation for transfer. The criteria used in the initial assessment and in any review is that the person:
- needs medical or psychiatric assessment or treatment
- is not receiving appropriate medical or psychiatric assessment or treatment in Nauru or Manus Island, and
- must be transferred for appropriate medical or psychiatric assessment or treatment.
The recommendation is given to the Minister for Home Affairs who must either approve or refuse the transfer within 72 hours. The minister can refuse the transfer if the person has an adverse security assessment or if the person has a “substantial criminal record”.
The minister may also refuse the recommendation on the basis he does not accept the transfer is necessary on medical grounds. In those cases an expert medical panel – known as the Independent Health Advice Panel (IHAP) – would be formed to reassess the recommended transfer.
If the panel recommends the person’s transfer should be approved, the minister must transfer the person unless satisfied there are security or character grounds for refusing the transfer.
The panel will consist of at least eight members, including the Chief Medical Officer for the government, the Department of Home Affair’s Chief Medical Officer and the Surgeon-General of the Australian Border Force. Other members would be appointed by the minister based on nominations by various professional medical bodies.
Medical transfers to Australia are for a temporary period only, so those currently in Australia could still be returned to Nauru or Manus Island following their treatment. This will continue to be the case even now this bill is passed.
These procedures are only applicable to asylum seekers and refugees who are on Nauru and Manus Island currently. The law will not apply to anyone who comes after the passage of this bill. Anyone brought to Australia for medical treatment must be kept in onshore immigration detention.
Medical transfers that have occurred to date are mostly for psychiatric reasons or a combination of psychiatric and other medical reasons. The importance of provided, rapid medical assessment and response to critically ill, or at-risk-of-dying, refugees and asylum seekers cannot be overstated.
In August, 2014 a 24-year-old Iranian detainee on Manus Island, Hamid Khazaei, fell ill and presented to clinicians at the detention centre with “flu-like symptoms” and a small lesion on his leg. After a course of antibiotics, his condition deteriorated and he was transferred to a hospital in Papua New Guinea. He died a few days later.