New report: Two years after Medevac, asylum seekers still waiting in hotels for urgent medical treatment

Two years after the repeal of Medevac laws, asylum seekers who were transferred from Manus Island and Naru are still languishing in hotels waiting for essential medical treatment.

This dire situation is highlighted in a new report Healthcare denied: Medevac and the long wait for essential medical treatment in Australian immigration detention released today by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre. The report exposes the Commonwealth’s failure to provide basic medical care for people in Australian immigration detention facilities.

‘The Medevac regime was intended to ensure that people detained in offshore facilities with serious health conditions could access essential medical services,’ said Lucy Geddes, PIAC Senior Solicitor and the report’s lead author.

‘It is absolutely appalling that two years later, people are still waiting for treatment for painful and debilitating conditions including severe gum disease, chest pain and heart palpitations. One of our clients suffered an excruciating knee injury while being detained Manus Island. When he was finally transferred to Australia and able to see an orthopaedic specialist, the specialist found that his knee was inoperable due to the severe damage and prolonged lack of treatment.

The Commonwealth Government has a duty of care to people it detains. Continuing to hold members of the Medevac cohort in unsuitable facilities including hotels indefinitely, without adequate medical treatment, is completely at odds with the Government’s legal obligations.

‘The combination of delayed treatment and long-term confinement to a hotel room has also exacerbated some existing medical conditions. Since being transferred to Australia, the conditions of onshore detention have resulted in our clients’ mental health deteriorating to the point they have been at risk of suicide,’ said Ms Geddes.

The report makes a series of recommendations to improve the quality, timeliness and oversight of healthcare in Australian immigration detention.

It also calls for the Commonwealth to amend the migration regulations to expressly provide for access to health care in immigration detention at a standard equivalent to that available in the Australian community.

Since 2017, PIAC’s Asylum Seeker Health Rights Project has been helping asylum seekers with serious, chronic diseases and injuries suffering indefinitely without access to treatments that are freely available to other detained populations such as people in prisons, and members of the broader community.

Healthcare denied: Medevac and the long wait for essential medical treatment in Australian immigration detention was formally launched at an online forum on 6 December with human rights and refugee ambassador Craig Foster, clinical psychologist Guy Coffey, who has worked with asylum seekers for over 20 years, and Thanush Selvarasa, a Sri Lankan asylum seeker, who was detained on Manus Island for seven years before being Medevac’d to Australia. He was finally released in January 2021. 

MEDIA CONTACT: Gemma Pearce, PIAC Media and Communications Manager: 0478 739 280.

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