Today the Queensland Coroner delivered his damning findings on the death of Hamid Khazaei (pictured). He found his death to be preventable and that it was the result of compounding errors in healthcare provided in off-shore detention.
This news came as absolutely no surprise to me.
When I worked on Nauru in 2017 I frequently experienced the delays, hold ups and obstructions caused by the Australian Border Force when trying to get critically-ill patients off the island. ABF officials were in meetings, unavailable, dismissive or downright unbelieving of the medical information being presented to them. This was two years after this tragic preventable death; nothing had been learned.
If this situation was happening in any center in Australia, there would be uproar and prosecutions. As it is, this underhand policy and media ban has meant that only a handful of cases get to the courts: fights for the right for reasonable medical care for these people, who are deeply damaged as a result of the deadly combination of slavish bureaucracy, inhumane policy and sadism on the part of the Department of Home Affairs.
The media blackout has been effective up to a point, but thanks to the ongoing efforts of a small group of dedicated journalists, activists and lawyers, the news continues to get out. The blind spot that many Australians continue to exhibit when it comes to people seeking asylum no longer exists. With every day that these camps continue, the burden of human suffering continues, and tragic cases like the one laid bare in this damning report will continue.
You can always tell when people are embarrassed to be associated with a policy. Names are refused as officials seek to distance themselves from decisions. I wrote many emails asking for clarification as to why my patients on Nauru were not being transferred, and the response always came from ‘the delegate’, or ‘the committee’. ABF would not give news to patients when denying their requests; they left that to other people.
You will see the usual after-the-event finger pointing, but the result is the same: a young man died and the blame can be placed firmly at the door of the people who perpetuate this ill-conceived policy. When the Red Cross, the UN, Amnesty International, the High Court of Australia, the AMA, former members of staff, and now the Coroner’s Court denounce your policy, it’s time to rediscover your humanity and act to prevent yet more deaths.
Australia’s duty of care to refugees is clear, and yet it fails them at every turn. The much-lauded deal with the US has resulted in the largest group of refugees, the Iranians, being left with no options. They cannot go home, nor can they go to the US, and Australia prevents them from going to New Zealand.
With substandard healthcare, self-harm and suicide attempts are on the increase. Peter Dutton would have you believe that these acts are part of bids to get to Australia. That is a lie. They are the acts of absolutely broken people, and Australia has done this to them.
The ongoing disgrace that is Manus and Nauru shames us all. Even its biggest champion, Minister Dutton, has conceded that the boats have not stopped. We do not know how many people continue to drown at sea as a result of the turn-back policy.
The solutions are difficult and require political resolve and bravery. This present abomination will only result in yet more deaths, and the ongoing psychological torture of children who have known nothing except life in a mouldy tent on a tiny, hostile island.
Nick Martin is a GP. He trained in the UK, worked around the world with the Royal Navy and now practices as a GP in Australia. Read his Nauru Diaries here.