Medical colleges call for Manus Island access

6:06 pm on 16 December 2017

Peak medical bodies are calling on the Australian government to improve the healthcare of refugees on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners issued a joint statement with the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists.

117th daily protest on Manus Island, West Lorengau, 27-11-17

Refugees on Manus Island protest. Photo: Behrouz Boochani

The colleges' urged the Australian government to ensure the refugees had access to the medical care they needed.

The president of the GPs' body, Bastien Seidel, said he was extremely worried for the health of vulnerable men, who he said were Australia's responsibility.

"The information that we are receiving seems to be very much filtered. There's no transparency there and that raises alarm bells amoungst the medical community. If there's nothing to see then there's nothing to hide," said Dr Seidel.

"Medical doctors should be allowed to go over to have access to see those people, to speak to them, to have a look at the facility, to assess the services that are available and to report back to the Australian community and to report back to Australian medical doctors.

"That's a common sense approach. There's no politics involved there. It's just a commitment to be transparent when it comes to the healthcare of vulnerable people."

The president of the college of physicians, Catherine Yelland, said Australia had an obligation to ensure that the refugees on Manus could receive the same level of care available in any Australian hospital.

"For a long time the college has aimed to stop offshore mandatory detention of asylum seekers. So yes we think fundamentally there needs to be political change, but also in the immediate term there needs to be transparency and an awareness of what is happening to those people," said Dr Yelland.

Kym Jenkins, the president of the psychiatrists college said she was deeply concerned the recent transfer from one detention centre to another would place a severe toll on the refugees' already precarious mental health.

"Prolonged or indefinite detention itself is known to contribute to adverse mental health and asylum seekers and refugees continue to have inadequate access to the necessary supports and services they require in offshore detention," said Dr Jenkins.

More than a thousand men have been detained on Manus since 2013, under a memorandum of understanding between PNG and Australia.

The calls from the Australia medical bodies came as pictures of a refugee was sent to RNZ Pacific by a Kurdish asylum seeker on Manus Island.

Benham Satah said the refugee's foot had grown progressively worse over a two-week period, and that "proper treatment" could not be dispensed on the island.

He said the man was suffering from a high fever and pain.

"He barely walks," said Mr Satah.

Meanwhile, a group of 27 Australian development workers in Solomon Islands have sent an open letter to the Australian government, alleging its treatment of refugees was undermining their work, by damaging Australia's reputation in the Pacific.

One of the signatories, lawyer Ben Lilley, said trust in Australia's public health development workers was being eroded.

"I think it certainly has an impact on the attitudes of Solomon Islanders towards Australians. Particularly Australians working in public health," said Mr Lilley.

"I think that the Australian government's actions in Manus are detrimental to the public health of the asylum seekers that are being housed there, and it's difficult, I think, for development workers in the Pacific to present Australia as a model practitioner of public health if Australia is acting in a way that is harmful elsewhere in the region."

Ben Lilley's group called for an end to what it described as Australia's internationally condemned policy of offshore detention.

The ailing foot of a Manus refugee.

The ailing foot of a Manus refugee. Photo: Benham Satah