Australia

Refugee surgeon who landed on Christmas Island in the 1990s slams PM's reopening plan

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A refugee who has become one of the country's leading orthopaedic surgeons has a message for Scott Morrison.

A refugee surgeon who landed on Christmas Island in the 1990s has slammed the government's plan to reopen the detention centre there.

"I don't think Christmas Island in the current state is equipped to be a medical evacuation centre. It's very small, the facilities are very basic," Dr Munjed Al Muderis told SBS News.

"It's not a place where people can be referred to, it's a place where you can transfer patients over to the mainland or offshore."

Dr Muderis was forced to flee his native Iraq in 1999, after he refused regime orders to surgically remove the ears of soldiers who had escaped from the army.

Dr Munjed Al Muderis fled Iraq and ended up on Christmas Island in the 1990s.
Dr Munjed Al Muderis fled Iraq and ended up on Christmas Island in the 1990s.
SBS News

He fled Baghdad for Jordan then went on to Malaysia and Indonesia before taking a boat to Christmas Island. An Australian citizen since 2006, Dr Muderis has become one of the country's foremost orthopaedic surgeons.

'Doesn't make sense'

Mr Morrison visited Christmas Island on Wednesday after last month announcing plans to reopen the detention centre. At the time, he cited fears of an influx of asylum seekers sparked by the Labor-backed medevac legislation.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the government needs to reopen the detention centre on Christmas Island because of the medevac bill.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the government needs to reopen the detention centre on Christmas Island because of the medevac bill.
AAP

The government has estimated reopening the mothballed centre will cost $1 billion, which will go towards upgrading medical facilities. Supporters of the medevac bill have criticised the government's plan to send patients there, rather than hospitals on the mainland as was intended.

"It doesn't make any sense. I don't know what's the reason for doing that, Christmas Island is a small Island, with a small medical facility and a very small number of people that live there," Dr Muderis said.

Scott Morrison tours the North West Point Detention Centre on Christmas Island.
Scott Morrison tours the North West Point Detention Centre on Christmas Island.
AAP

"We're going to spend another one billion dollars on Christmas Island, for what reason? ... Are we going to create a problem rather than a solution, it's a big question to ask.

"In my opinion it's either backpedalling and it's a plan to reopen Christmas Island and bring refugees there in the future, which will unfold later. Or it's complete chaotic behaviour from the government and they don't know what they're doing."

'Up to the job'

On Christmas Island, Mr Morrison told reporters" "I thought it was important for Australians to know that it is up to the job".

"The medical support that is necessary to do the job ... will be able to be delivered through the very professional staff of IHMS, who are also operating in Nauru itself. They will have a lot of familiarity with a lot of the cases."

Mr Morrison also confirmed that all asylum seekers and refugees that are approved for transfer under the medevac bill will be sent to Christmas Island, rather than mainland Australia.

Doctors are yet to submit any applications for transfer since the bill became law on Friday.

"I think those who thought that this would be some easy passage to the mainland and would seek to try and take advantage and game the system, well, I think they are getting a very clear message that it won't be as simple as that," Mr Morrison said.

"They will come here to Christmas Island and this is where they will receive that assessment."

Scott Morrison toured the Christmas Island Detention Centre.
Scott Morrison toured the Christmas Island Detention Centre.
Getty Images

Mr Morrison said the centre is ready to house up to 250 people.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten described the prime minister's "frolic" as a waste of money, seizing on reports the Australian Border Force had fallen short on sea patrol targets due to budget cuts.

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