A dying Afghan refugee held on Nauru for five years has been transferred to Australia for palliative care after a sustained campaign of pressure from , medical peak bodies, the media, and even members of the Australian Border Force.
Ali*, a 63-year-old Afghan Hazara refugee and father of six, has advanced lung cancer. His prognosis is “dire”, doctors said, and he is not expected to live more than a few weeks or months. Previously, the Australian Border Force (ABF) and Department of Home Affairs had been adamant he would not be moved to Australia under any circumstances.
But the Guardian learned that he was flown by air ambulance from Nauru to Brisbane on Saturday afternoon. He landed at 6:45pm local time, Hazara community members on said.
, after doctors and members of the Afghan Hazara community on Nauru pleaded with the ABF for him to be moved.
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There are no specialist palliative care facilities on Nauru, and Ali, as his health deteriorates, is increasingly in need of care and pain relief beyond that available to him on the island. The care he was receiving inside the Australian-run regional processing centre was “totally inadequate”, doctors said.
The ABF had previously told Ali he could go to Taiwan to die – an option he rejected because he does not know anybody there, was concerned there would be no one to translate his language, Hazaraghi, and that there would be no one to perform the Shia Muslim rituals and ceremonies on his body when he died.
The ABF also offered him $25,000 to return to Afghanistan, the country he fled after facing threats on his life. Ali is a member of the persecuted Hazara minority and has been formally recognised as a refugee – he faces a well-founded fear of persecution in and cannot be forcibly returned there. Australia is legally obliged to protect him.
For several weeks, Ali’s treatment has been the subject of fierce debate within the ABF and home affairs department.
Sources told the Guardian several ABF and departmental officials argued strongly for Ali to be brought to Australia, saying the country was failing a “fundamental legal and moral duty of care” by leaving him on Nauru, and that to move a dying man to a place that could properly care for him at the end of his life caused no substantial damage to Australia’s resolute offshoring policy.
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High-profile or politically sensitive medical cases are decided not by the ABF but by executive-level officials of the Department of Home Affairs; in some cases as high as the secretary of the department or the minister for home affairs.
ABF recommendations from Nauru are often overruled at the executive level inside the department.
As late as Saturday morning, the home affairs minister, , was quoted as saying, in response to pressure to close the Manus and Nauru offshore detention centres: “It’s not time to take our foot off the throat of this threat.
“It’s essential that people realise that the hard-won success of the last few years could be undone overnight by a single act of compassion in bringing 20 people from Manus to Australia,” Dutton told the Weekend Australian.
After Ali’s situation was , the and issued statements insisting he be moved immediately to Australia where he could be properly cared for.
“This man should be brought to Australia for palliative care and be allowed dignity and respect at the end of his life,” the RACP president, associate professor Mark Lane, said.
Nearly calling for Ali to be immediately brought to Australia.
And an online open letter started by the Sydney GP Sara Townend , including former heads of the AMA, and those who had worked on Nauru. The letter said Ali’s current situation was “no way to die”.
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Townend told Guardian Australia: “It hurt so much to read of this man’s situation because I work so hard for my own patients to make their deaths the best they can be.
“I work with adults who are dying, and with children who are dying. Even here in Australia with excellent palliative care available, a good death is challenging to achieve. I could not bear to think of this man dying alone in a room without family or community or appropriate medical expertise. I could not believe this was a deliberate act of exclusion by my government.”
Friends on Nauru said that the condition of Ali – who had previously worked in construction while being held on the island – deteriorated badly in recent weeks. He was finding it increasingly difficult to speak, had lost most of the use of his right arm, and could no longer dress himself.