Canberra, Australia – Australia’s government has tabled in parliament amendments to repeal a key medical bill for refugees held in its offshore detention centres, despite concerns the move would put lives in danger.
The so-called Medevac Bill, which allows the transfer of refugees to mainland Australia for medical treatment, was passed despite government opposition in March.
Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton warned that the legislation would cause the “floodgates to open”. But since the bill was passed, just 23 people have been transferred to Australia and a further 24 have been approved and are awaiting transfer.
But the conservative government, which came to power in a shock election victory in May, wants to amend the bill to block refugees from accessing medical services in Australia.
Refugee advocates say the law is vital to ensuring the health of refugees in offshore processing centres due to the poor quality of the medical services on the islands of Papua New Guinea.
“The Australian government has deprived people of having access to medical care for six years, and this Medevac law is the only chance we have,” Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish-Iranian refugee on Manus Island, told Al Jazeera by WhatsApp.
Boochani recently won Australia’s richest literary prize for his book about Manus, No Friend but the Mountains.
“If they change [or repeal] this law, it will make the situation worse and definitely more people will die,” said Boochani, adding that he is incredibly concerned about the number of refugees and asylum seekers on Manus who are either suicidal or in need of serious medical care.
“Australia is playing with innocent people’s lives,” he said.