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Protect Refugee Health

Offshore refugee camps pose major risks to refugees’ health. The Greens will establish independent medical and mental health oversight.

>REFUGEE HEALTH AND WELLBEING

The old parties are risking the health and wellbeing of thousands of refugees, including children, by dumping them in appalling conditions in Nauru and Papua New Guinea. A caring nation looks after people fleeing persecution and their physical and mental health.

In the rush to set up cruel detention camps and slum cities, there is no plan for independent oversight of refugees’ health and care. The old parties are committed to dumping all refugees who come by boat out-of-sight, out-of-mind in the poorest nations in our region, with no safeguards for their medical and mental health needs.

Reports from whistle-blowers and the UNHCR already tell us that conditions in the camps are harsh and dangerously inadequate, but there is no transparency about what is happening in Australia’s name.

> SAFEGUARDING THE HEALTH OF PEOPLE IN AUSTRALIA’S CARE

The Australian Greens want to put a stop to offshore detention altogether. But while it is in place, Australia remains responsible for looking after the health and wellbeing of refugees we send to detention camps. There must be special oversight of the impacts of indefinite detention on these already traumatised people.

The Greens will establish an independent panel of medical and mental health experts to provide transparent public oversight and rigorously monitor the needs and wellbeing of vulnerable people sent by Australia to Nauru and PNG.

The Independent Health Advisory Panel would:

  • be selected from a pool of experts nominated by Australia’s peak medical, psychiatric and psychological bodies;
  • be self-directed in the nature of their investigations;
  • have access to all offshore facilities and personnel;
  • be independent of the Minister and report directly to the Parliament every six months.

The Panel would be tasked with reporting on the health conditions inside detention camps, investigating deficiencies in care, and making recommendations for improving the medical and mental health care that refugees sent offshore can access.

> FAILING REFUGEES’ WELLBEING IS FAILING OUR DUTY OF CARE

The boat voyage that brings refugees to our shores seeking sanctuary is the last stage in a long and often dangerous journey. After traumatic experiences and long periods in unsafe conditions, the physical and mental health needs of refugees and asylum seekers can be complex. This means that refugees in detention need access to comprehensive, modern health care facilities and expert help.

We have already seen numerous reports of the damage caused to adults and children by detention in Nauru, Manus Island, Christmas Island and the Australian mainland. Each report is more worrying that the last, highlighting serious problems with the physical and mental health of asylum seekers in detention.i The history of personal trauma, the hot and steamy conditions, the limited resources including limited fresh water, the risk of disease, the remoteness and the high levels of distress about the future, all add up to a dangerously difficult environment for maintaining the good health and wellbeing of refugees.

Australia is raiding our foreign aid budget to spend over $8 billion on offshore asylum seeker management, and is outsourcing basic medical care to commercial contractors.ii Given the horror stories emerging from the detention camps, this arrangement is unacceptable and the full transparency and oversight of the Independent Health Advisory Panel is urgently needed. Now that Labor is committed to dumping hundreds of children and unaccompanied minors in Nauru, rigorous health oversight are essential.

Australia recognises that people have a right to health care. We have a duty to look after the basic health needs of people under our protection. In sending vulnerable people offshore, the first step should have been to establish an expert advisory committee to review and oversee the protections conditions as recommended by the Houston Panel.iii

Despite public promises by the Government that a degree of health oversight would be provided, there has been no review and oversight of offshore detention so far.iv The Greens are not willing to leave refugee health and well-being to chance. 

i Joint Select Committee on Australia's Immigration Detention Network, Final Report 2012; http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jul/12/united-nations-report-manus-island; Report of the UNHCR Monitoring Visit to Manus Island, Papua New Guinea 11-13 June 2013 
ii Economic Statement, released by Treasurer the Hon Chris Bowen MP, August 2013.
iii The Report of the Expert Panel into Asylum Seekers, para 3.59.
iv http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jul/15/manus-island-committee-never-met 

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