The outcome of one of the two* coronial inquests into deaths in offshore detention underway this week has been damning for the Australian government’s treatment of people seeking asylum.
The Queensland Coroner this morning delivered a conclusion that confirms what those incarcerated and those advocating for them have been stating for years – that both patients and doctors are being ignored in favour of the decisions of bureaucrats/politicians when it comes to healthcare for those detained on Manus Island or Nauru for the ‘crime’ of seeking a safe life.
The policies of mandatory and offshore detention have continually been roundly criticised by experts on human rights, immigration law and all bodies overseeing and supporting those forced to seek asylum. So a finding from the Queensland State Coroner that Australia holds sole responsibility for the care of 24-year-old Hamid Kehazaei and for the failures that led to his death cannot be ignored. Particularly when the Coroner has also indicated that the healthcare debacle stems from the political decision-making that rules the operation of offshore detention centres when issues like healthcare must be under the control of those whose oath is to put a patient’s welfare first.
There can, then, be no doubt that Malcolm Turnbull and his Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton bear the responsibility for the death of Hamid Kehazaei. It is on the principles they espouse and the procedures they demand that the young Iranian man imprisoned on Manus Island was unable to access the healthcare required to keep him alive following a wound to his leg.
The coroner heard evidence that demonstrates an ingrained lack of concern for human life at executive levels of bureaucracy …
Kehazaei had initially been treated for with a small, apparently routine, infection in his leg with antibiotic treatment which proved ineffective. When his condition deteriorated, doctors repeatedly requested he be urgently transferred to Australia for hospital-level care. After a phone briefing of the situation, the Department of Immigration’s Assistant Director of Detention Health Services emailed her Director, stating that health providers had “exhausted all antibiotic treatment that is available on Manus Island” and that Kehazaei needed an “urgent medical transfer”. After more than 5 hours delay, her superior responded, refusing to “escalate” the transfer request and asking why he could not be treated on the island. Another email stressing the serious nature of Kehazaei’s condition escalated the issue, but that not read by the Assistant Secretary for a further 13 hours. Then it was yet another 17 hours before Kehazaei was finally moved – not to Australia where doctors had recommended – but to a Port Moresby hospital, where not one error, but cascading mistakes(he was misdiagnosed, treated with broken or incorrect equipment and left unattended even as the machines keeping him alive were sounding alarms) led to “a healthy strong man” suffering multiple cardiac arrests and subsequent multi-organ failure.
* The Western Australian Coroner this week begins an inquest into the 2015 death of stateless Kurdish asylum seeker Fazel Chegeni Najed. Najed’s body was found two days after he escaped from the Christmas Island detention centre. In December 2015, a month after Chegeni died, Guardian Australia published more than 700 pages of his leaked immigration file, which showed that multiple requests for Chegeni to receive mental health treatment were ignored. Email Empathy aims to post on findings when proceedings conclude.
There is little more that can be said. And much more.
Preventable deaths continue to occur because of the Australian government’s approach to refugees – people who need PROTECTION from persecution.
It will never be too late to speak out.
No one can stand up for what is right too many times.