Australian doctors demand access to Manus Island asylum seekers

by Adela Suliman | @adela_suliman | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 27 November 2017 12:48 GMT

Five Christian community leaders, with chains around their necks that are attached to the main gate of Kirribilli House, stage a protest in support of asylum-seekers being held in transit centres on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and Nauru, in Sydney, Australia, November 27, 2017. REUTERS/James Redmayne

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"This is a matter beyond immigration and border control, but one that affects the health of people and others' perceptions of our great nation"

By Adela Suliman

LONDON, Nov 27 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A group of senior Australian doctors have written an open letter to their government citing "great concern" for the physical and mental health of hundreds of asylum seekers cleared from an abandoned Australian-run detention camp in Papua New Guinea.

The doctors outlined a range of concerns from poor hygiene and sanitation to the spread of disease and called for an immediate review of the health of the men still on Manus Island, offering to conduct the medical assessments themselves.

"They, like all human beings, have a universal right – enshrined in the United Nations charter – to health and well-being. Their political and citizenship status should not affect this right," read the letter, published on Monday.

Australia officially closed the Manus Island detention centre on Oct. 31, after it was declared illegal by a Papua New Guinea court, but the asylum seekers refused to leave to transit centres, stating that they feared for their safety.

Papua New Guinean police cleared the remaining asylum-seekers from the Manus detention complex on Friday, ending a three-week protest which saw some 600 people surviving on rain water and smuggled food and supplies.

The Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection did not immediately respond to a request for comment by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

In Geneva, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR on Friday denounced the use of force by Papua New Guinean police to remove the refugees and asylum seekers and called for Australia to ensure their protection, noting that several refugees were "severely injured" in the raid and needed medical treatment.

The open letter by the doctors follows a separate unanimous vote by members of the Australian Medical Association (AMA) which called on the government to grant access to the centre so doctors could assess health and living conditions.

The international medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) also said in a statement on Sunday that it had been refused entry to assess the health of the detainees after previously being granted authorisation.

"I am very concerned by the fate of the refugees and people seeking asylum in Manus Island's transit centres," said Stewart Condon, president of MSF Australia.

Mostly from Afghanistan, Iran, Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Syria, the detainees are held under Australia's strict "sovereign borders" immigration policy, under which it refuses to allow asylum seekers arriving by boat to reach its shores.

"We believe that the humanitarian issues take precedence over politics," said the group of surgeons and physicians in the open letter.

"This is a matter beyond immigration and border control, but one that affects the health of people and others' perceptions of our great nation."

(Reporting by Adela Suliman; editing by Ros Russell. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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