Taiwan’s arrangement with Australia on medical transfers and treatment of offshore refugees is an alarming relationship that threatens Taiwan’s commitment to the rule of law, and its commitment to international law and obligations.
Taiwan is complicit in the human rights abuses resulting from Australia’s harmful removal and indefinite detention regime. The decision to engage in this arrangement should be reconsidered in the interest of Taiwan firmly establishing itself as a state that upholds basic human rights and values of international law.
Under Operation Sovereign Borders, the Australian government indefinitely detains all asylum seekers who arrive by boat and seek protection. Since the reinstatement of Australia’s offshore detention policy in 2012, asylum seekers have been removed to and detained on either Manus Island, Papua New Guinea or Nauru — where they are subject to harsh conditions and inadequate health services, all while being denied due and timely processing of their protection claims.
The Australian government claims that an unwavering refusal to resettle refugees who have sought asylum by boat is central to the deterrent strategy in its offshore processing regime. However, notwithstanding substantive criticism of the efficacy of such a regime, the removal and indefinite detention regime is a clear breach of international human rights laws and standards.
As such, Taiwan’s confirmation of the deal demonstrates that the relationship is growing and affirms the nation’s involvement in Australia’s policy imperative, which has been condemned by local and international representatives, experts and bodies alike.
The clarification on May 18 of Taiwan’s involvement by Deputy Representative to the UK Cheng Shyang-yun (程祥雲) has confirmed concerns that many have had about the secret dealings between the two sides and the system of indefinite detention.
Taiwan’s role in the cruel chaos, it seems, is to prevent medical transfers to Australia by treating asylum seekers with medical problems in Taiwan. Such treatment is unavailable on Manus or in Nauru.
The detention facilities not only lack adequate equipment, but have also been plagued by contractual disputes with medical service providers, such as International Health and Medical Services IHMS. Thus, Taiwan has stepped in to provide treatment and, effectively, assist Australia to evade its responsibility to provide medical care to asylum seekers.
The memorandum of understanding between Taiwan and Australia was signed in September last year and is an integral document to the arrangement, which has since facilitated the transfer of at least 12 asylum seekers for treatment in Taiwan. Despite the existence of the memorandum being confirmed, there is no publicly available information regarding its contents or its nature.
However, the intention underlying the agreement and the arrangement itself is a clear reflection of Australia’s callous position — medical treatment for asylum seekers subject to indefinite detention is not an avenue to permanent or even temporary protection, irrespective of how serious or life-threatening the circumstances are.
Taiwan might consider that its role in this arrangement is a positive contribution — by raising health standards and providing access to medical services for vulnerable asylum seekers. However, the only party benefiting from this arrangement is Australia, a state that is more than capable of treating them onshore.
Taiwan’s moral obligation is clear. This is a system that is inhumane, illegal and unconscionable. Taiwan’s role as a third party — stepping in where Australia blatantly refuses to transfer asylum seekers onshore for any treatment — is indefensible.
Isir Mohamud is a member of Liberty Victoria’s Rights Advocacy Project.
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