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Australia: UN experts urge immediate medical attention to migrants in its offshore facilities

GENEVA (18 June 2019) – UN human rights experts* urged Australia to immediately provide appropriate health care to more than 800 asylum seekers and other migrants who have been held in the country’s offshore facilities for the past five years without durable solutions.

The independent experts called on the Australian Government to transfer those identified as requiring urgent medical attention to Australia.

The UN experts are deeply concerned that the integrity of these individuals, including their mental health, has been deteriorating with fatal consequences. There have been multiple reports of self-harm and suicide attempts, with an increase since 19 May 2019 after the Australian federal elections.

The experts have contacted the Government of Australia about their concerns regarding the situation of migrants in Australia’s offshore facilities on various occasions. The last letter to the Government addressing this issue was transmitted on 2 April 2019, to which the Government provided a reply on 3 June 2019.

“These individuals are subject to years of effective confinement in Australia’s custody, based solely on their migration status. The situation of their indefinite and prolonged confinement, exacerbated by the lack of appropriate medical care amounts to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment according to international standards,” said the experts. “Australia should look for long-term solutions for these migrants while solutions cannot be found in the offshore facilities.”

In its reply, Australia claimed, “no one is denied appropriate health care”. However, information received since 2014 suggest several reported cases of death resulting from the lack of access to health care including medical treatment at the offshore facilities. Many migrants suffer from deteriorating physical and mental health, which seem to have been the result of a lack of appropriate health care, exacerbated by the indefinite and prolonged confinement. A number of migrants also suffer from serious or chronic medical illnesses that require immediate medical attention but have been left untreated for months or even years. Among the myriad of actors that provide services to the migrants, private security and other service providers have reportedly failed to facilitate access to health care in a number of instances.

“Australia has the ultimate responsibility for migrants who are transferred to its offshore facilities and should remedy the situation without any delay to prevent any further harm to these individuals, including devastating impacts on their physical and mental integrity, and loss of life.”

In response to the health care needs of these migrants, the Government of Australia re-opened the Christmas Island immigration detention facilities. “We are concerned that some of these facilities are detention-like, which should not be used to host asylum seekers or refugees,” the experts said. “Facilities on Christmas Island or Port Moresby are not equipped with appropriate health care facilities, goods or specialised medical personnel to address their medical needs.”


(*) UN experts: Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; Nils MelzerSpecial Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Dainius Puras, Special Rapporteur on the right to everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; Jelena Aparac (member), Lilian Bobea (member), Chris M. A. Kwaja (member), and Sorcha MacLeod (member) of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination.

For more information and media requests, please contact Ms. Yiyao ZHANG +41 22 917 8594/yzhang@ohchr.org). 

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org).