‘I can’t see any gleam of hope’: refugees in Nauru on medevac bill | Australia news
Sahar* does not have the energy for optimism. The Iranian refugee is one of a large number of refugees and asylum seekers in immigration detention on Nauru who would be eligible for medical transfer to Australia if legislation that passed the House on Tuesday also passes the Senate, which it is expected to do.
She has severe anxiety stemming from a dog attack and what she describes as persistent sexual harassment in Nauru, as well as painful degrading enamel on her teeth, a condition that earned her a medical referral to Australia from Nauru’s senior dental officer for enamel veneers, which are not available in the tiny Pacific nation.
But even if the legislation does pass, the 34-year-old says, it will not make a difference. To provide proper healthcare would mean that Australia would have to care about asylum seekers, and from Sahar’s perspective they stopped caring a long time ago.
“I can’t trust the politicians nor the doctors,” she says. “For six years, I witness how doctors collaborated with politicians to ruin us here. Even if the bill passes, they would not transfer us until they find us dying. The aim of the policy is to obliterate us.”
In Canberra, debate has coalesced on what a defeat on this issue might mean for the Morrison government and the timing of the federal election, and what supporting the medical transfer bill would mean for Labor’s electoral chances.
But from this distance, 3,340km off the coast from Brisbane, the debate is not political but existential.
Hajar, a 33-year-old Iranian asylum seeker, is on Nauru with her ailing parents while her brother lives in Australia. Her mother, aged 56, attempted suicide in December; her father is confined to a sling because he requires elbow surgery.
He rejected the Australian government’s offer to have the surgery performed in Taiwan, where he has no support network.
Hajar says the Australian Border Force (ABF) is “aiming to tear our family apart”.
“I’m gonna throw myself in the ocean,” she said. “I can’t look after my depressed and ill parents anymore.
“If the bill was to pass, many severely sick and defenceless humans will be rescued from ongoing torture.”
Bita*, a 30-year-old Iranian refugee, has also been on Nauru for six years. Her capacity for hope has been ground down.
“My six-year experience of endurance with the Australian refugee policies doesn’t allow me to be optimistic about this bill,” she told Guardian Australia. “Nauru is equal to hopelessness. I can’t see any gleam of hope that would heal us.”
Bita suffers from severe back pain and now uses a wheelchair. She has been waiting for a month to see an orthopaedic surgeon and also requires an MRI, which she has been told she cannot get in Nauru.
She wrote to the ABF twice seeking medical treatment and asking to be resettled in New Zealand and received a letter back in January advising her that the government of Nauru and the Australian-funded International Health and Medical Services, which services the regional processing centre, are responsible for her healthcare.
“We all came out here with good health and standing on our two feet however most of us now are on wheelchair,” she said. “For so many years, my depression and pain have been ignored and untreated that I am not sure that I will ever recover from them anywhere else.”
*Some names have been changed.