19 Aug 2013

Australian doctors, appalled by asylum seeker policies, set up new group

7:14 pm on 19 August 2013

A group of Australian doctors has called for a change to Canberra's asylum policy, saying it is turning the country into a pariah.

A spokesperson for Doctors for Refugees, Dr Barri Phatarfod, told Don Wiseman how the newly formed group came about.

BARRI PHATARFOD: Well it started off when I was talking with a colleague, we were watching Q&A, one of the politicians panels, and it struck us both how the politicians on both sides of the spectrum were effectively singing from the same song sheet about punitive measures towards asylum seekers. So we said, we should send a message to the government that we also feel really strongly that what they're doing is the wrong thing, that it's counter-productive, certainly in terms of the health, healthcare. We found that most of the medical bodies, the peak medical bodies such as the AMA, already had a strong, supportive stance on asylum seekers as does of course Doctors Reform Society and Doctors Without Borders. It seems that overwhelmingly, doctors and health professionals feel that what's happening is very short-sighted. Now as health professionals, we've undertaken to care for people and look after their health interests and what's happening with these detention centres is that the healthcare needs aren't being looked after and eventually it's costing the government more money anyway.

DON WISEMAN: We have this dramatic escalation in terms of what is going to be happening in PNG and possibly in other places in the Pacific, what should happen to all these camps?

BARRI PHATARFOD: Well they're just crazy. It's ridiculous because PNG, they don't have the infrastructure... PNG, Nauru don't have a culture that's going to support the asylum seekers. Nauru isn't a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention. PNG is, only in a modified sense, so they do have the punishments... they don't have the infrastructure like interpreters, they don't have the culture, they don't have a number of things that are going to support the asylum seekers. We really need to uphold our international obligations by processing the asylum seekers on shore. Every other country does that. Every other first-world country allows community settlement after the initial processing of security and health checks are done, I don't see why we should be any different. It costs us a lot of money, not just in terms of compensation and actually in terms of the initial costs when it comes to the detention centres but it makes us an international pariah.

DON WISEMAN: Doctors for Refugees are standing up and saying this now - are you going to go further with this?

BARRI PHATARFOD: Absolutely. We've timed it for the election campaign but in doing so we've found that we've got support from a number of other health professional groups. This has been going on for a while and it's kind of reached a critical stage where something has to be done when we have compensation, when we have court cases, when we have David Manne and various refugee activists taking things to the High Court. How long is it going to go on for? I actually think it will possibly change once one side of politics gets in a stable government and not a minority government. But maybe that's just too much to ask for really.