Australia

'Dying man's last wish': Nauru refugee denied care in Australia

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Refugee advocacy groups say a terminally ill man is not being allowed to enter Australia to receive palliative care.

A terminally ill refugee on Nauru has been refused entry to Australia where he hoped to receive palliative care, according to advocacy groups.

The 63-year-old Afghan Hazara has advanced lung cancer and is currently receiving treatment in the regional processing centre.

Ian Rintoul, a spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition, said the organisation had been in contact with the man throughout 2018.

"For a long time, there was no diagnosis although he was kept in the International Health and Medical Services clinic [in the regional processing centre]," Mr Rintoul said. 

"You have to be very sick to be kept there. But he was not sent anywhere for further treatment or further tests.

"We suspect now that if he had got proper tests months ago, that the cancer may have been discovered much earlier and he may have been able to be treated."

Mr Rintoul said the individual was told he had "advanced cancer" in April and that Border Force offered to send him to Taiwan for medical care.

The individual reportedly asked to be sent to Australia to be looked after by members of the Hazara community (an ethnic group native to Hazarajat in central Afghanistan) but his request was refused.

Mr Rintoul said the Australian government was "denying the last wishes of a dying man to have some peace and comfort in his last days".

"The government is now so obsessed with maintaining the punitive integrity of offshore detention that they have lost any sense of proportion," he said.

SBS News contacted the Department of Home Affairs about the man's case and asked what options had been provided to him.

A spokesperson said "the department does not comment on individual cases".

"Medical transfer decisions occur on a case-by-case basis in consultation with the contracted health services provider and the government of Nauru. Medical transfers are only undertaken with the permission of the individual."

Dr Barri Phatarfod of Doctors for Refugees, a group which has been monitoring the situation on Nauru, confirmed that the man had "end-stage lung cancer and is not expected to survive".

"In Australia, we have well-defined palliative care standards [and the ability to] deliver powerful analgesia to offset the agonising pain of cancer ... none of these are available in Nauru," she said.

"There is no reason for this man to go to Taiwan and absolutely no justification for the Australian government to suggest it.

"There is a negligible Hazara community in Taiwan and so no-one who even shares his language.

"As a recognised refugee we have acknowledged the significant hardships he has faced in his country of origin. Yet solely because of his arrival by boat, we are continuing to traumatise him in the most unimaginably cruel manner."

Member of the Hazara community in Australia Hassan Ghulam told SBS News there was "great concern" for the individual's welfare among Hazaras here.

"He has cancer. He's going to die. Why not assist him? ... This is not an issue of politics, this is an issue of morality," he said.

The Hazaras are mostly Shia Muslims, while the majority of Afghans practice Sunni Islam. The group has a history of persecution, with many of them fleeing Afghanistan to other countries.

SBS News also spoke to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre about the healthcare conditions more broadly in Nauru.

"International Health and Medical Services, paid for by the Australian government, provides primary care but cannot manage complex or acute health issues," said Natasha Blucher, the organisation's detention advocacy manager.

"The Republic of Nauru Hospital has limited facilities, and while there are occasional visiting specialists, the level of care is not comparable to a tertiary hospital.

"We regularly see cases in which doctors from IHMS recommend that people are transferred out of Nauru for treatment, but where this advice is ignored or significantly delayed by Australian government officials, causing immense suffering, pain and worsening of serious medical conditions, placing lives at significant risk."

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