‘The happiest they’ve ever been’: What it feels like on Manus Island after momentous bill passes

Manus Island refugee, Iranian-Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani.

Manus Island refugee, Iranian-Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani. Photo: AAP

Refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island are the happiest they have been since the US-Australia refugee resettlement deal struck in 2016, Kurdish-Iranian refugee and author Behrouz Boochani says.

Speaking to The New Daily following the passing of the medical transfer bill by the Senate on Wednesday morning (36-34), Boochani said he had “never seen the refugees like this”.

“After six years, the Australian Parliament has finally made a humane decision,” he said.

“It’s a big step forward, and the first time we’ve had a political victory.”

Boochani said one of the hardest things on Manus Island was witnessing people suffering, and having no power to help them.

“I’m surrounded by people who are sick. Many people never come out of their rooms because they are so mentally unwell,” he said.

“There are also so many people who are physically sick, in hospital, and just waiting to receive medical treatment.”

Boochani, who has been in limbo on Manus Island for more than six years, recently won the $100,000 Victorian Prize for Literature for his novelNo Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison –written in detention.

His stories echo the many activists, case workers and humanitarian lawyers involved in helping refugees on Nauru and Manus Island, who are cautiously optimistic following the landmark legislation.

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre’s director Jana Favero told The New Daily the centre, which is currently working with 70 of the 1080 refugees and asylum seekers left on Nauru and Manus Island, has identified 25 critically ill refugees from on the ground, case manager data.

Ms Favero said the 25 people have been recommended for medical transfer by the government’s doctors, with the majority waiting up to three years – and some as long as five.

“We’ve got people who are suffering from seizures, who have blood in their urine, and people who have immobility, so can’t feel parts of their body,” she said.

Ms Favero said the medevac bill will ensure transfer decisions will have to be made much faster.

“At the moment, we have to threaten legal action and go to court for sick people to be transferred, and even after that there are delays,” she said.

“It’s true that a bill is not needed to ensure medical treatment. The reason it’s needed is because the current process is broken, and because the government has not given people access to the medical care they need.”

Asylum Seeker Resource Centre Jana Favor says the medical transfer bill will ensure transfer decisions will have to be made quicker.

Asylum Seeker Resource Centre’s Jana Favero (left) says the medical transfer bill will ensure transfer decisions will have to be quicker. Photo: Getty

The landmark legislation, which was originally proposed by Dr Kerryn Phelps and later amended by Labor and the crossbench in the Senate, passed 75-74 in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

The bill allows asylum seekers to be transferred to Australia for medical attention if two doctors say they need it, unless the Home Affairs Minister rejects it on security concerns.

A minister would then be required to review their case in 72 hours, and if they reject it, an independent health advice panel would review it.

Speaking to 5AAA Adelaide radio on Wednesday morning, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said he was aware of “at least nine cases … where there are significant concerns about individuals [with] serious criminal difficulties”.

“People have been alleged to have been involved in sexual relationships with minors on Manus. People have been alleged to have committed murder in one case, in Iran,” Mr Dutton said.

He said that currently, Nauru has 60 medical professionals per 427 refugees and asylum seekers.

“Now 60 medical professionals for 400 people is a higher per capita rate than you will find in Adelaide or any other regional area, remote area, capital city in the country,” he said.

Moments before the bill was passed by the Senate, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced he would be reopening Christmas Island to cope with the prospect of new boat arrivals.

“It’s my job now to ensure the boats don’t come back. I will do everything within the government’s power to ensure that what the Labor Party has done to weaken our borders does not result in boats coming to Australia,” Mr Morrison tweeted on Wednesday.

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