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Press briefing note on Australia

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights:  Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva 
Date: 6 December 2019
Subject:  Australia

We are very disappointed by the repeal of the Medevac laws in Australia, which had allowed sick refugees and other migrants held in offshore detention centres to be sent to Australia for treatment. During her recent visit to Australia, the High Commissioner appealed to Members of Parliament not to reverse this law, which had been a humane improvement to some aspects of Australia’s harsh offshore processing and detention policies.

We are concerned by this U-turn in policy and law, and that individuals held in offshore detention may now effectively be deprived of appropriate and prompt medical care and their lives put at risk.

Medical experts, not politicians, should be at the heart of decisions about people’s medical care. Removing a fair, transparent and doctor-led process for accessing essential, and in many cases, life-saving medical care is cruel, inhumane and unnecessary.

We know that past failures to provide proper medical care have led to tragic consequences. Twelve people died in offshore detention centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea before the Medevac laws were passed. Most of those deaths were the result of physical or mental health conditions brought about by their experience in such detention.

Since coming into force in March of this year, the Medevac laws have ensured that more than 100 people who were extremely unwell received access to vital medical care in Australia.

The repeal of the Medevac laws means that sick people in offshore detention will now have no option but to return to the previous process of taking legal action in order to access medical care. This is lengthy, costly and an unnecessary burden on the Australian court system, and will mean further suffering for these people.

Under international human rights law, all individuals, regardless of their status, have the right to health. They are also protected against unsafe return, and given that most of these individuals are unable or unwilling to go back to their countries, there is an urgent need to find rights-based and dignified solutions to their situation. 


For more information and media requests, please contact: Rupert Colville - + 41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.orgor Jeremy Laurence  - 41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org
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