Senior members of Australia’s medical establishment have signed an open letter to the nation’s Parliament sounding the alarm about health conditions for asylum seekers and refugees on Manus Island.
In the open letter, published in full below, the 18 signatories call for an immediate, independent review of the health status of those still on Manus, and offer to assist with this on a probono basis.
“We would require the Australian government to negotiate the diplomatic permissions and officially sanction travel to and within PNG, as well as agree to clinical assessment of willing individuals,” they say.
Signatories include past presidents of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists, College of Intensive Care Medicine, Royal Australasian College of Physicians, Royal Australasian College of Medical Administrators, and Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine, as well as a Past Chair of the Council of Presidents of Medical Colleges, and current and past presidents of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.
The doctors say that humanitarian issues take precedence over politics, and that this “is a matter beyond immigration and border control, but one that affects the health of people and others’ perceptions of our great nation”.
Their letter follows a call by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) urging Papua New Guinea authorities to give its team access to the asylum seekers and refugees in Manus Island transit centres, to provide essential medical care. Read the full MSF statement here.
The doctors’ open letter follows similar interventions by former Australians of the Year, as well as Rhodes scholars, while many health and human rights organisations have also urged the Australian and PNG Governments to honour their international human rights obligations.
Beneath the open letter below are more reports via Twitter from the marches held around the country this weekend, where thousands of Australians came together to show solidarity for the men, and to call for their evacuation.
The tweets also show journalists and journalism organisations expressing serious concerns about the detention last week of Behrouz Boochani, an Iranian refugee and award-winning journalist who contributes to Australian publications, as an attack on press freedom.
Boochani later wrote about the experience for The Guardian, and senior journalists (including Peter Greste and Mike Carlton) are calling for his courageous work to be recognised with a special Walkley’s award at the 2017 Walkley Awards function in Brisbane this week.
The open letter
An open letter to the Australian Parliament (government and opposition) regarding the health of Asylum Seekers and Refugees on Manus Island
We are senior Australian clinicians who write in our individual capacity to express our concerns about the ongoing health and well-being of the former detainees still based on Manus Island and now in alternative accommodation. 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. All politicians regardless of their political party should respect the human right to health and themselves be strong advocates of “health for all” without discrimination.
- We are deeply concerned about the ongoing refugees’ physical and mental health;
- There are reports of poor hygiene and sanitation, limited supply of electricity and inadequate living conditions. All of these exacerbate disease and ill-health;
- We are not aware of accurate information on the health status of the refugees since the “official” closure of the Manus Island Australian-governed facility;
- We are concerned about the harm and the adverse publicity to the international reputation of Australia, its government and its people.
Urgent action is required:
- We believe that there should be an immediate, independent review of the health status of those still on Manus;
- We are prepared both to participate in this and to nominate appropriate, independent and credible clinicians;
- We are of the opinion that such a review should ideally be made in conjunction with senior Papua New Guinean clinicians who would take the responsibility for informing their government.
We are willing to conduct this review pro-bono, arranging the appropriate mix of clinical specialties. We would require the Australian government to negotiate the diplomatic permissions and officially sanction travel to and within PNG, as well as agree to clinical assessment of willing individuals.
We believe that the humanitarian issues take precedence over politics. This is a matter beyond immigration and border control, but one that affects the health of people and others’ perceptions of our great nation.
Yours sincerely and with great concern at the current situation,
Professor David A Watters OBE ChM FRCSEd FRACS, Alfred Deakin Professor of Surgery, Deakin University, Past President Royal Australasian College of Surgeons
Laureate Professor Nicholas J. Talley MD, PhD, FRACP, FAFPHM, FAHMS, University of Newcastle, Newcastle, Australia, Past President Royal Australasian College of Physicians, Past Chair Council of Presidents of Medical Colleges
Mr Philip Truskett AM FRACS, Prince of Wales Hospital, Sydney, Past President Royal Australasian College of Surgeons
Dr Lindy Roberts FANZCA FFPMANZCA FAICD, Specialist Anaesthetist and Specialist Pain Medicine Physician, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, Perth WA, Past President of Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists
Professor Patrick McGorry AO FRCP FRANZCP, Executive Director Orygen,Professor Youth Mental Health, University of Melbourne, President, International Association for Youth Mental Health, NHMRC Principal Research Fellow, President, Schizophrenia International Research Society
Professor David Fletcher FRACS, Director of Surgery, Fiona Stanley Hospital, Professor of Surgery, University of Western Australia
Professor Kingsley Faulkner AM Cit WA MB BS FRACS MDA (Hons), School of Medicine, Fremantle, University of Notre Dame Australia, Past President, Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.
Dr Liz Marles FRACGP, Past President RACGP
Professor Bastian M. Seidel PhD, MACHI, MRCGP, FRACGP, Current President, The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.
Professor Bala Venkatesh, MBBS, MD (Int.Med), FRCA, FFARCSI, MD(UK), FCICM
Past President, College of Intensive Care Medicine (ANZ)
Adjunct Associate Professor Frank R Jones FRACGP. Immediate Past President of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners
A/Prof Christopher Milross MD FRANZCR FRACMA FAICD
Past President Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists
Dr Mukesh Haikerwal AO RACGP, Professor School of Medicine Flinders University, Adelaide, Past President AMA, Past President AMA VIC
Professor Malcolm Hopwood MPM MD FRANZCP, Professor of Psychiatry, University of Melbourne, Past President Royal Australia and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists
A/Professor Michael Hollands FRACS, Westmead Hospital, Sydney, Past President Royal Australasian College Surgeons, Past Chair Council of Presidents of Medical Colleges
Dr Lee Gruner FRACMA FHKCCM GAICD, Immediate Past President Royal Australasian College of Medical Administrators
Dr Genevieve Goulding FRANZCA, Senior staff specialist anaesthetist, Royal Brisbane & Women’s Hospital, Immediate Past President, Australian & New Zealand College of Anaesthetists
Prof Lucie Walters, Professor Rural Postgraduate Medical Education, Flinders Rural Health South Australia, Immediate Past President Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine
Journalists speak up
Meanwhile on Manus