The lower house of the Australian Parliament passed amendments Tuesday that would give doctors more power to bring over asylum seekers stranded in the country’s offshore camps for treatment.
Australia has held thousands of asylum seekers in camps on the island nation of Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island since 2013, with about 1,000 remaining on both islands. The conditions at these camps have been heavily criticized by human rights groups, and Doctors Without Borders warned late last year that about 30 percent of its patients on Nauru had attempted suicide.
The amendments passed would enable transfers of asylum seekers to Australia for medical reasons based on a referral from two doctors, unless the home affairs minister intervened with a security concern. Doctors would be able to issue these referrals based on their own assessment of whether a patient’s life was at risk, and of whether the patient was receiving inadequate care on the islands.
Late last year, public pressure over severe health issues facing children living on the islands prompted officials to allow all of them to be relocated to Australia. While this resettlement has been celebrated as a success, human rights officials warn that an urgent medical crisis still faces the adult asylum seekers living on the islands. The new amendments allowing transfers to Australia for medical reasons still need to be approved by the upper house of the Australian parliament.