Immigration

Amputee saved by refugee surgeon urges PM to rethink asylum seeker ban

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An Australian amputee has penned an open letter to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, asking him to reconsider the proposed asylum seeker ban, citing a life-changing operation by a surgeon who arrived as a refugee by boat.

Allison France, a Brisbane woman who lost her leg five and a half years ago after she was hit by a car, has used an open letter to call on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, to reconsider banning asylum seekers, including refugees, from Australia for life.

Ms France said she received life changing treatment from a doctor who fled from Iraq to Australia by boat – Dr Munjed Al Muderis.

“I was destined to spend my life in a wheelchair until I met Dr Munjed Al Muderis,” she wrote.

“I owe my health, my ability to walk and have a decent quality of life with my children to Dr Al Muderis.”

Mr Turnbull announced on Sunday the government planned to amend the Migration Act to ensure asylum seekers who tried to come to Australia by boat after 2013 would be banned from the country for life, including those attempting to come by tourist or business visas.

The amendment would "prevent irregular maritime arrivals taken to a processing country for making a valid application for an Australian visa," including those found to be refugees.

Ms France says Dr Al Muderis is the only orthopaedic surgeon in Australia who performs osseointegration surgery, which involves fusing bone and prosthetic material together.

"I would not have walked without him,” she told SBS News.

In 2011, Ms France was hit by a car driven by an elderly man who lost control in a Brisbane shopping centre car park. She managed to push the pram holding her four-year-old son away from its path as she was pinned between the vehicle and another.

The nature of her injury meant she could not be fitted with a traditional socket and prosthetic limb. However, in 2013 she read an article about Dr Al Munderis and his specialisation, and she thought this could be her chance to walk again.

The operation entailed inserting a titanium rod into her femur or thighbone to connect a prosthetic. 

"I have 10-year-old and 12-year-old boys, beautiful boys," she said. "And my big goal before my operation was to be able to walk down the street and hold my sons' hands. I couldn't do that in a wheelchair or crutches.

At the time, she was his 26th patient. Now he has performed the surgery on over two hundred patients - more than any other doctor in the world.

“People are travelling from all over the world to have this surgery," Ms France said.

"He’s a leader, he’s a world leader in this field.” 

Allison France with Dr Munjed Al Muderis
Allison France with Dr Munjed Al Muderis (Supplied)
Supplied

There are only four medical centres, including Dr Al Muderis’ practice, around the globe that use osseointegration technology.

Ms France said it was "awful" to think Australia’s current detention program could have rendered him stuck on Manus or Nauru.

“To think that could be wasted," she said.

“There would be many people at Manus and Nauru who have a lot to offer and we don’t know what they have to offer, we don’t get to know that. 

“You just look at his one example. And why would you deny people like me and so many others to have his expertise and his knowledge.”

Dr Al Muderis told SBS News he was glad the technology had improved her quality of life.

“I met her overseas in Dubai [after her operation] and it was pleasing to see she was walking and travelling overseas where she couldn’t before that,” Dr Al Muderis said.

Allison France with her husband and two sons.
Allison France with her husband and two sons (Supplied)
Supplied

Dr Al Muderis was working as a surgical resident at a hospital in Baghdad during Saddam Hussein's regime in October 1999 when military police entered with three busloads of army deserters.

They ordered the doctors to cancel their elective surgeries and cut off parts of the men’s ears.

"My boss refused to cut their ears off and he was dragged out and a bullet was put in his head," Mr Al Muderis said earlier this year. 

"They did that in the car park in front of everybody and that was a horrifying moment."

Dr Al Muderis went to a women's toilet where he stayed for five hours until the guards had left.

"By escaping and refusing to perform these atrocities, I became a traitor to the government, and as a result of that the punishment would be execution,” he said.

So he left Baghdad for Jordan then went on to Malaysia and Indonesia before taking a boat to Christmas Island.

From there he was brought to Curtin Detention Centre in Western Australia and was kept in near isolation for about 10 months.

"I was called 982 back then because that was my identity."

On August 26, 2000 he was released and travelled from Perth to Adelaide and then on to Melbourne to stay with a relative where his sole focus became work.

He began by sending his CV to hospitals around Australia, he said, before setting on the track to becoming a pioneering orthopaedic surgeon.

Dr Munjed Al Muderis examines an X-ray.
Dr Munjed Al Muderis examines an X-ray.
Supplied

'It's time for a new party'

Dr Al Muderis is now passionate about ensuring the rights of asylum seekers and refugees. 

"It is time that a new party will come up and say 'we want to have proper, humanitarian solutions for our problems'."

“The policies [in Australia] have been set on what is perceived to be popular vote and it is very sad because these policies are basically set up to deprive people of their civil liberties.” 

He wants policies to be based on ethical and moral values rather than popular votes, he added. 

While the boats should stop, Australia should uphold Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which the country is a signatory.

The declaration states that, “people have the right to ask for asylum in another country, if they fear persecution”.

Proclaiming self-identified asylum seekers as “illegals” before their claims have been properly assessed is a breach of the declaration.

However, it is not a treaty and not directly legally binding although some argue that those that have invoked the declaration for more than 60 years are bound as part of customary law.

“The last thing we should do is treat them with the same terror [that they are fleeing from]," Dr Al Muderis said.

"We are using our noble forces to deter people who are armless, harmless and running away from fear and terrorism. That is not right.”

Instead of investing money into detention centres, Australia should build processing centres in the root countries, and pathway countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia, Dr Al Muderis said.

“We should build up ties with these countries to fight people smugglers, we should build up ties with countries to build up processing centres … so people don’t have to jump on a boat,“ he said.

Asylum seeker ban in line with international law: Dutton

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton says the proposed amendment to the Migration Act is in line with international laws.

Mr Dutton told ABC News the laws would not break Australia's international obligations pertaining to refugee laws. 

"We are absolutely confident in terms of the constitutionality and that we meet our international obligations," he said.

In 2015, Australia had the third-largest intake of refugees. The countries that settled the most through the UNHCR were:

  1. United States (66,500)
  2. Canada (20,000)
  3. Australia (9,400)
  4. Norway (2,400)

In September, Mr Turnbull announced the country would increase its humanitarian intake of refugees from 13,750 in 2015-16 to 18,750 refugees in 2018-2019.

Mr Turnbull said that Australia had one of the most generous humanitarian programs in the world that could only continue because the country was "in command of its borders".

"A generous humanitarian program, a harmonious multicultural society depends on the Australian government being in control of its borders."

There are over 65 million displaced people around the world, according to the UN.

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