CATHOLIC Religious Australia has criticised moves to repeal the so-called “medevac law” that protects the transfer of refugees and asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea and Nauru to Australia for emergency medical treatment or assessment.
The peak body for leaders of religious congregations and institutes living in Australia said in a statement the medical evacuation bill, which passed the Senate against the Coalition’s wishes in February this year, saved lives.
The federal government is seeking to repeal the laws, and the fate of refugees and asylum seekers in offshore detention centres sits in the hands of Senator Jacqui Lambie, who has the casting vote on the repeal push.
Queensland Senator Amanda Stoker, who is an outspoken pro-life advocate, supports the repeal of the medevac bill.
On a Facebook posted published this morning, Senator Stoker said “medevac arrangements dismantle our border protection regime” and that it should be repealed “pronto”.
But for many of CRA’s members, the issue has become personal.
CRA council member, Dominican Sister Mary-Clare Holland, was one of seven Catholic leaders, including Fr Gerry Hefferan from Brisbane, chosen for a high-level delegation to meet with former Manus Island asylum seekers and refugees now living in Port Moresby.
She said the delegation visited Bomana, a prison complex, where some former Manus Island detainees were being held.
During one visit to a hospital, a desperate man called out for help from the delegation.
“I encouraged him to eat, but he had lost the will to live,” Sr Holland said.
“I felt shattered.”
Sr Holland said 47 asylum seekers lived in Bomona, and many have been detained there for seven years and classified as “non-refugees”, people who have never applied for refugee status or whose applications had been rejected.
They are known in PNG as the “negatives”.
Sr Holland said these innocent men were being used as a deterrent to stop others from seeking aslyum or refuge in Australia.
They are denied visitors, phones, access to lawyers and have minimal rations each day.
For fellow CRA council member, Passionist Father Tom McDonough, said people like “the negatives” were the sorts of people who would be directly affected if the government won a repeal.
“Asylum-seekers and refugees are suffering in detention,” Fr McDonough said.
“Medical facilities are grossly inadequate to deal with their physical and mental health. That’s why the Medevac Bill must remain.”
Fr McDonough said it was important to remember that transferring refugees and asylum seekers to Australia for emergency needs “was not a resettlement plan”.
“The Medevac Bill simply provides urgent medical assistance,” he said.
“It applies only to people still in PNG and Nauru, whose numbers are declining.”