Doctor slams Australia 'inaction' on boatpeople

2014-05-28 09:56
Asylum-seekers sit on an Australia-bound boat. (Picture: AFP)

Asylum-seekers sit on an Australia-bound boat. (Picture: AFP)

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Sydney - An Australian doctor who outlined extensive claims of poor medical treatment of asylum-seekers at the country's Christmas Island detention centre has slammed authorities for "largely ignoring the report".

John-Paul Sanggaran, who compiled a 92-page letter with 14 other doctors in November detailing the standard of care of boatpeople at the camp, said the medical professionals "do feel our work has largely been ignored".

"Despite over 18 000 words of detailed concerns there has been no adequate response," he told a conference on asylum-seeker health in Sydney on Tuesday evening.

Under Australia's punitive offshore detention policy, asylum-seekers arriving by boat are now sent to camps in Nauru or Papua New Guinea for processing and permanent resettlement outside the country after a short turnaround period on Christmas Island.

They used to be held indefinitely at the Australian Indian Ocean territory facility before offshore processing came into effect in July last year. Many who arrived before then still remain on Christmas Island.

‘A disgrace’

According to the latest immigration department figures, 823 people were held at Christmas Island and 2 450 on Nauru and on Manus Island in PNG at the end of April.

The Brisbane-based doctor said the private provider that runs the detention centre's medical treatment - International Health and Medical Services (IHMS) - sent a one-page reply to the concerns raised in the letter.

The IHMS said in a statement on Wednesday that they took the letter "most seriously" and discussed its contents with Sanggaran and the other doctors "at length in person and by telephone" in December and January.

"We conducted a full review of the recommendations and discussed this with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection," it said.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison was not immediately available for comment.

Sanggaran told the conference asylum-seekers taken to Christmas Island were separated from their medical documents and medications, including equipment such as glasses, hearing aids and parts of a prosthetic leg.

Detainees were treated with medications without individual consultations and might have to wait weeks or months to see a doctor, while those who required urgent care faced "unacceptable and dangerous delays", he added.

"We have the capacity to provide adequate care to this vulnerable population and we have the ethical responsibility to do so," Sanggaran told the conference.

"To continue in this manner is a disgrace, and shameful to all those that call themselves Australian."

The United Nations and refugee advocates have repeatedly criticised Australia's detention of asylum-seekers and called on authorities to treat them humanely.

The renewed health concerns follow a review into a riot at Australia's detention centre on Manus Island in February, which left one Iranian dead and dozens injured.

The independent review, which was conducted on behalf of the Australian government and released on Monday, found the man was "brutally beaten" to death by a Salvation Army worker.
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