Asylum seekers in PNG hospital hope medevac bill will lead to a new life in Australia

| 16.02,19. 09:28 AM |

Asylum seekers in PNG hospital hope medevac bill will lead to a new life in Australia

Photo: Many refugees hope the medevac bill will serve as a gateway to Australia. (ABC News: Natalie Whiting)

Refugees in a hospital in Port Moresby are hoping the passing of the medical evacuations legislation will give them not only access to treatment in Australia, but also settlement in the country.

But as hopes rise for some, other patients are worried they could be discharged beforehand, after PNG immigration officials were called to collect a man this week.

Nearly two dozen Manus Island refugees are receiving medical treatment in the Pacific International Hospital, perched on a hilltop in Papua New Guinea's capital.

Emotions are running high in the hospital, which could now be a gateway to Australia for some of the sick and desperate men inside.

For those who've remained ill for years despite bouts of treatment in PNG, they are hoping for a breakthrough in Australia

The day after the bill which gives doctors more say over whether a patient should be transferred was passed, a 55-year-old Iraqi refugee was removed from the hospital.

The refugee, who does not want to be identified, said six immigration officials came to his hospital room.

"They said, 'You have to move'," the man told the ABC.

"I said, 'Why move?' They said, 'You are not sick'. I said, 'My treatment is not finished'."

It is not normal procedure for immigration officers to attend when someone is discharged.

There are claims from some people in the hospital that the man had been refusing to leave when the doctors wanted to check him out,

But the hospital is yet to respond to the ABC's questions about the incident.

The asylum seeker maintains he was not told about the discharge in advance and the arrival of the immigrations officials was sudden and unexpected.

He said they offered him 15 minutes to collect his clothes and leave the room, and he was eventually forced out.

"They pushed me, I fell down," he said.

He said he was then put in a wheelchair, pushed outside and taken to a hotel.

"It is not right to be taken from the hospital by force," he said.

"They should be investigated for what they did."

The man said he had been in hospital for problems with his eyes, which he said are still not fixed, and also said he had headaches and dizzy spells.

Patients deemed too sick to be on Manus Island, with its basic healthcare system, are transferred to Port Moresby. If they are not in the hospital, they stay in hotels in the city as outpatients.

"It is not good treatment for me. No treatment here in Port Moresby," the man said. "It is a bad thing for me."

Patients fear immigration officers will return

Several other patients at the hospital said they were told they are also going to be discharged and many are worried the immigration officers may return.

Another refugee patient, Gul Bandash, said he saw the immigration officers in the hall.

"They talked to seven people, [telling them] the doctor discharged you, you can go to the hotel," Mr Bandash said.

"People are not happy about that, because they're scared about that.

"They're worried about that because they want a good treatment, because people in here are mentally and physically [unwell]."

The PNG immigration department has not responded to a request for comment.

The men the ABC spoke to are all hoping they can be transferred to Australia for treatment.

"[In the] last six years, no one got proper medical treatment, that's why people are now happy," Mr Bandash said.

"They want to go to Australia for treatment."

Mr Bandash said he was getting tests done on his heart, and also had lumps on the back of his head, which have been there for years, despite multiple doses of medication.

A list of more than 40 cases of men from Papua New Guinea who required medical treatment has been drawn up by advocates.

The Australian Council for International Development presented a list of 21 urgent cases to some politicians while the medevac bill was being debated.

It includes people with serious psychiatric illnesses, failed orthopaedic surgery, hernias, uncontrolled diabetes, self-harm and suicide attempts and undiagnosed eye and ear conditions.

Hussain Alsaadi is among the patients in the ward.

He said he has had stomach problems for five years and has blood in his stool.

"I still have the same problem, nothing has changed or helped for my condition," Mr Alsaadi said.

He said he's also having tests run on his heart.

"I'm not an old man, and I fall down [because of] my heart. I was coming to Australia feeling young, now I feel like an old man."

He said he attempted suicide while on Manus Island after becoming frustrated and overwhelmed by his medical problems.

"I hung myself in Manus and the security protected me," he said.

"He hugged me, and he is crying saying please, you have to change your life."

Another patient who did not want to be identified said he was waiting for a hernia operation, but was now hoping to have it in Australia.

Future unclear for medical evacuees

After more than five years in Papua New Guinea, many people hope they will be able to remain in Australia if they were evacuated for treatment.

"We are waiting for the new life," Mr Alsaadi said.

"Everyone is waiting for a change in life, you will go to Australia and have a safe life."

It is unclear how many people will qualify for transfers and what will happen to them afterwards.

Almost 900 people have been transferred to Australia from Manus Island and Nauru under the previous system — about 390 patients and 500 family members.

The majority have remained in the country.

Some people in the hospital are speculating that patients will want to remain in the ward to try to be first priority to be transferred to Australia.

It is not clear if the refugees transferred under the new bill will be sent back to PNG after receiving treatment, resettled in a third country, or remain in Australia, like those who have come before.

But if they do stay in Australia, it would be in detention or community detention, and in a legal limbo.


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