Interview 1: Dr Barri Phatarfod

Doctors4Refugees is an organisation that oversees the healthcare provided to people in detention, both offshore and onshore. Unfortunately, despite the minister’s claims that the treatment provided to people on Manus Island and Nauru is broadly comparable to that the provided in the Australian community, the reality is not the case. Doctors 4 Refugees has been able to obtain the medical files of a number of people held in offshore detention and quite a few onshore, obvious with the patients’ permission, and we can see a number of cases where the healthcare that they have been given deviates quite significantly from any acceptable level of what you would see in Australia or any other first world country. And the situation doesn’t change when people have been found to be refugee and leave detention.

We are overseeing the healthcare provided to one man who has in fact been found to be a refugee. So his claims that he was persecuted and suffered trauma and torture while in Iran were found to be legitimate by the Australian government and he was released from Nauru detention but now lives in the Nauru community under the agreement the the Australian government have signed with the Nauruan government. This man, who was a highly functioning man back in Iran, who was tortured, severely traumatised, as was his family, managed to escape, come to Australia, ended up in Nauru, where he was imprisoned for 2 or 3 years. Despite all this he managed to remain optimistic, remained the model of the “good refugee” that Australia likes to perpetuate and was found to be a refugee. His application was approved, he was released into the community and did the completely appropriate thing, applied for a job working in a phosphate mining station and was trying to rebuild his life with his family.

He was set upon recently by some thugs in Nauru. They hit him several times with a machete amongst other weapons. He now has severe brain damage, he is incontinent, he is incoherent, he is severely depressed, he can’t sleep, he has trouble walking. He has lost most of his function and needs to be cared for by his wife. And unfortunately the Australian government have effectively abandoned him. He did the absolute right thing in terms of waiting for his refugee application to be processed, being found to be a genuine refugee, has been a productive member of society, was an engineer in the past, highly educated, and under the Australian government auspices, we have reduced him to being someone who is dependent on his wife for care.

And a lot of people don’t realise that people seeking asylum are educated, have come from wealthy background, are people just like all of us. People say, “How can they be genuine refugees if they have money? How can they be genuine refugees if they have mobile phones or Nike shoes?”. You know, because they are refugee doesn’t mean they are uneducated or poor, it means they are people who by virtue of the political upheaval in their country are reduced to losing everything, losing absolutely everything, and have taken the only path they see possible for them and for their family, which is to get out by any means possible. I think pretty much everyone in Australia would do the same thing, faced with the same circumstances.