Health

SOS from Manus

In April 2016, the Papua New Guinea (PNG) Supreme Court, ruled that Australia’s detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island was illegal. Their detention breached the PNG constitution, and their right to personal liberty. They’re detained on Lombrum naval base,  thirty-minutes away from the nearest town, Lorengau. After three-years of being held on the guarded base, they were now allowed to go, with restrictions, into town, by bus in daylight hours. The Australian and PNG governments, were ordered to start taking steps to end the detention of asylum seekers there.

It wasn’t until this year, that both of the government’s announced that the camp on the naval base was to be closed down. The deadline is this Tuesday, the 31st of October. Compounds housing asylum seekers on Manus have been progressively shut down since. They have been given four options:

Relocate to the East, Lorengau Transit Centre

Go home voluntarily

Settle in PNG

Resettle in a third country

During this time, locals have enjoyed employment and enjoyed earning money that most have never seen before. More than one-thousand locals have lost their jobs. Since the closure announcement, tensions have risen dramatically, with more robberies, and violence against the men held on Manus. To the point that many are too afraid to take the risk to go into town, they feel safer on the naval base. There is no point reporting anything that happens to them because the PNG police don’t do anything. Around 70 men are currently, at the transit centre, with over 600 cooped up on the naval base, refusing to move to the centre. They’re too terrified to go as it is not safe, the locals have made it very clear that they don’t want them there.  

Communications from Manus

I’ve been in communication with an asylum seeker on Manus, for the last few months. Out of respect for his privacy and concern for his safety, I’m keeping his identity anonymous. I will call him Rick. With the October deadline approaching, and anxiety building, a few days ago, he shared a few things with me.

He met an Australian man on Manus recently, and while discussing his situation, he told him that he wanted to go and have a look at the new camp, at the Lorengau Transit Centre. The man replied:

‘Don’t go there, locals are so angry, and they might do something silly to you.’

He said that a few days ago he was in a meeting with locals who told him that they hated the men and wouldn’t accept them, and that:

‘We don’t want any refugees around our neighbourhood.’

Rick also told me how he had met and spoken of his concerns with David Yapu, a local Police Commander, on Manus.  

He also shared his concerns and said that the police have been given:

‘No clear direction about your situation, if anything happens, we have no direction of what to do.’

Yapu apologised to Rick and said that:

‘We’re really sorry for what Australia is doing to you’.

He also said that what Australia was doing to them was:

‘Inhumane, and shouldn’t happen to any person in the world’.

The compassion from someone from a police force, renowned for their brutality, wasn’t lost on Rick.   

The new transit centre isn’t safe 

It was revealed in senate estimates this week, that the new construction at the transit centre being built in Lorengau by the Australian government, hasn’t even finished being built. Rick and his Australian friend, went together, to have a look at the new transit centre, but authorities wouldn’t let them in. The government says that it will be finished by tomorrow, the 29th of October. As the closure date looms closer, locals have threatened violence against builders working on the centre, as well as vandalising and blockading it. Landowners of the centre, don’t want any refugee centres in residential areas. They say they’ve had no warning or consultation by the Australian government, and the PNG government has also been kept in the dark about the new construction going on at the centre. There is also a petition being circulated around Lorengau calling for the Australian government to take the men to Australia, until a third country has been found for them. In one community meeting an elderly man said:

“I’m going to get the youths. We’ll get spear guns, knives, axes, spades, crowbars and we will block the road.”

Many of the refugees and asylum seekers have been locked up there for over four-years. Of the 718 men on Manus, most of the men have been found to be refugees. There is also a group of around forty men known as the ‘Forties’, that have refused from the beginning, to be settled in PNG if they were found to be refugees. They have been given negative results despite not being processed, including my friend Rick. When the option came up to resettle in America, Rick felt glad that he had stood his ground, because he felt that the Australian Border Force, was lying about PNG being the only option for him to resettle. He could see straight away that PNG was very dangerous and knew he wasn’t wanted, all of the men know this and feel this way. He has asked many, many times for over a year, to tell his story and to be processed, but they said that he’s lost his chance and he’s not getting another. They are threatening deportation.    

Broken men  

This week the men were given medical packs to last them for one-month, with no further assistance. Most of the men are on medication, to help them sleep. Also for physical and mental health problems, that require professional care. It’s alarming that they would give such a large of medication to them, without guidance, particularly when mentally unstable. Interpreters for the men are rare too, leading to miscommunications and misunderstandings between the different nationalities. The seeds of conflict were sown from the start, however. The locals were told that the asylum seekers were dangerous criminals, and the asylum seekers were told that the locals had deadly diseases, and that they were cannibals.                 

In mid-February 2014, a violent riot broke out in the detention centre, lasting two days. Many of the men had already been imprisoned for nine-months with no clue as to what was going to happen to them. No asylum seekers had even been processed yet, they were understandably demanding answers about processing their claims and resettlement. When immigration officers arrived and told them that they were going to be resettled in PNG, one of the men asked:

“Okay, you are saying you are going to resettle us, but your country is listed as 39 out of 40 notorious countries, and how – I mean you can’t even control your own people, how do you think that you could resettle us and give us a life here?”

G4S had the detention centre contract at the time (Broadspectrum took over the contracts, after the riot), and their staff and guards, warned against such an announcement. Based on intelligence, G4S was worried about the potential for conflict. Immigration on site agreed with the decision not to tell the men, but it was overturned by immigration in Canberra. The announcement, was the catalyst for the riot.

Violence and murder on Manus

Iranian asylum-seeker, Reza Barati, was murdered. Another man lost his eye, one man was shot in his buttocks, and another had his throat slit. Seventy-seven others were treated for serious injuries. It wasn’t until 2016, that a former G4S employee, and a former Salvation Army employee, (both PNG nationals), were arrested for the murder of Reza Barati. Their sentence was reduced because there were so many other people involved in the murder. The other people involved were local residents and local security guards. Nobody else has ever been charged for the murder, or for the other serious injuries, inflicted on scores of others. One of the men charged for the murder has escaped twice from prison. He is currently still on the run.   

On Good Friday this year, drunken PNG soldiers fired into the detention centre on the naval base. This time security guards, refugees and immigration officials were assaulted. Nobody has ever been charged for this incident either. Six men have died on Manus, two of the deaths have been in the last few months, both of the deceased, were found near the transit centre in Lorengau. It has been reported that the deaths were suicide due to mental illness, some have their doubts.        

A matter of human rights

The Australian government is currently trying to force the men off of the naval base and into the new centre by withholding medical services, emptying rain-water tanks, closing the mess and withholding fruit, sugar  and coffee cups. Interestingly the fruit, sugar and coffee cups were stopped from been handed out, but the men have started receiving them again. The men wonder if the Australian government is worried about being found to abuse human rights again. Lawyer Ben Lomai, is seeking orders from the court that food and water should be provided after the 31st of October.

“If there’s anything, food and water should be maintained because that’s their constitutional right,” he said to Radio New Zealand.

“So you can’t deny them food and water. So if they are allowed to stay there then those are the two services they can be entitled to. Other things can be subject to further negotiation.”  

He is also seeking orders to guarantee the men’s safety if and when they are moved to the centre and for a requirement that refugees are offered settlement in a third country.

The men have been given food-packs to last two days. Electricity is set to be turned off and the PNG military have been ordered to take over the base next Tuesday.  There should be a sense of urgency, not complacently seeing how it will all turn out, and a lets hope for the best, type of attitude.   

Fiji gets dragged into the political arena

Not only have PNG’s mobile squads been deployed to assist with moving the men from the navy base but Fiji guards have been employed by a PNG company to guard the refugees and asylum seekers for one-year as of tomorrow. This is already not going down well in Manus, locals are asking why can’t they have the forty-two jobs?  There has been pay comparisons too with the Fijians being paid a lot more than locals for the last four years. This will not bode well.

Time to end the political games

In my mind, we have moved beyond the blame game, or one-upmanship that both major parties have played. Beyond the billions of dollars spent playing these games. And beyond, even resettling asylum seekers like Rick in Australia, many of them don’t want to come here, and I don’t blame them. But they do want to be resettled in another country, that is safe, and they deserve to become, contributing members of society again.

We also can’t ignore the fact that this is being done for political reasons, especially when we look at the fact, that as of last June, there were more than 64,000 people overstaying their visas in Australia. Nearly 7,000 have overstayed for fifteen to twenty years. The most humane and sensible approach would be to bring them to Australia for processing, and to take it from there, for resettling them.

They’ve lost so much, stealing years away from them, means that when they do finally get resettled, the road ahead will be much steeper, especially in regards to gaining employment. We are heading towards the five-year mark of their imprisonment on an island in the middle of nowhere, the world has changed so much in this time. And of course so have they, but what strikes me the most about these men is how strong they are, and how kind-hearted they are, despite everything that Australia has put them through.

Updated: 29/10/2017

Many thanks to all of the sourced researchers, publications and artists involved in this article and in my series.

          

 

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Corporations want to profit from global health with TiSA and the TPP

I recently wrote about the TPP and now I think it’s time that we take a look at the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA). It’s a services-only free trade agreement (FTA) that began in 2012 with exploratory discussions between Australia, US and the European Union (EU) for a year and with formal discussions beginning in early 2013. Australia, US and the EU take it in turns to chair the negotiations in Geneva. The services sector accounts for around 70% of Australia’s economic activity and accounts for around 17% of Australia’s total exports. Current countries negotiating the TiSA are Australia, Canada, Chile, Chinese Taipei, Colombia, Costa Rica, The European Union (representing its 28 Member States), Hong Kong, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Liechtenstein, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Republic of Korea, Switzerland, Turkey and the United States. These countries also account for around 70% of global trade in services. China and Uruguay have expressed interest but have yet to be invited, it’s also worth mentioning that the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) bloc have not been invited.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) deals with the global rules of trade between nations and the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) came into effect in April 1994, and involves all WTO members. The TiSA’s aim is to be compatible with GATS yet, set a new standard in services trade that covers all service sectors including health and public services; financial services; ICT services (including telecommunications and e-commerce); professional services; maritime transport services; air transport services; competitive delivery services; energy services; temporary entry of business persons; government procurement; and new rules on domestic regulation to ensure regulatory settings do not operate as a barrier to trade in services. The discussions are held behind closed doors as per other trade agreements, Wikileaks managed to leak draft text from the April 2014 round of discussions involving further deregulation of global financial services markets, despite the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). The draft Financial Services Annex sets rules to assist the expansion of financial multi-nationals into other nations by preventing regulatory barriers. The leaked draft also shows that the US is particularly keen on boosting cross-border data flow, allowing the uninhibited exchange of personal and financial data.

The Australian government has a web page for it’s involvement in TiSA and in the sixth April/May round that Australia also chaired, more than 140 negotiators and sector-specific government experts attended. There were advanced discussions in all areas of the negotiations, including on new and enhanced disciplines (trade rules) for financial services, domestic regulation and transparency, e-commerce and telecommunications, and maritime transport. TiSA parties also agreed to move to a negotiating text for air transport and market access negotiations also continued. The Global Services Coalition or “Team TiSA” organised a substantial industry presence in the margins of the negotiations and as the name suggests is pro the TiSA for the US. Trading in services has grown at a faster pace than trading in goods since the 1980s. The United Nations Conference on Trade And Development (UNCTAD) estimates that in 2013 global services exports reached $4.7 trillion and grew at an annual rate of 5%.  Overall, the services trade has grown by 95% since 2000. World Bank research shows that the services sector has become the dominant driver of economic growth in developing countries, delivering both GDP growth and poverty reduction.  In 2011, the services sector accounted for a massive 49% of GDP in low income countries and 47% in least developed countries. Team TiSA has every right to be cheering for it as it would benefit the US greatly. The US is the world’s largest single-country exporter and importer of services and they generate more than 75% of their national economic output. In 2013 the US exported over $681bn in services, resulting in a $231 billion surplus. Services exports in 2013 grew by $31.8 bn and services imports in 2013 grew by $12.9bn.

Australia chaired the ninth round early last December and this time it was attended by more than 200 negotiators and sector-specific government experts. Good progress was made in advancing the enhanced disciplines (trade rules) for e-commerce and telecommunications, domestic regulation and transparency, financial services, temporary entry of business persons, professional services, maritime and air transport services and delivery services. There was also further discussion of proposals on government procurement, environmental and energy services, and the facilitation of patient mobility. Parties reported on progress in bilateral market access discussions held since the September round and committed to advance these further in 2015. Besides the vagueness and secretiveness above and what it all means for every day Australians, one thing leaps out and that is the facilitation of patient mobility. Luckily another leak was sprung, the proposal was titled ‘A concept paper on health care services within TISA Negotiations’ and it states there is ‘huge untapped potential for the globalisation of healthcare services’ mainly because ‘health care services is (sic) funded and provided by state or welfare organisations and is of virtually no interest for foreign competitors due to lack of market-orientated scope for activity’. It was allegedly a proposal put forward by Turkey, and was discussed by TiSA members in the September round of discussions. And there are justifiable fears that they want to commodify health services globally as well as to promote “medical tourism” for patients.

Experts, such as Dr Odile Frank of Public Services International (PSI) say, ‘The proposal would raise health care costs in developing countries and lower quality in developed countries in Europe, North America, Australia and elsewhere’. Rosa Pavanelli, PSI General Secretary, also commented that ‘Health is a human right and is not for sale or for trade. The health system exists to keep our families safe and healthy, not to ensure the profits of large corporations’. The proposal could see patients being treated in other TiSA countries for reasons such as long waiting times in their home country or a lack of expertise for specific medical problems. The patients’s costs would need to be reimbursed through their own countries social security system, private insurance coverage or other healthcare arrangements.

The beneficiaries of this are the large health corporations and insurance companies, the ones actually behind the negotiations, that would benefit from an approximate $USD 6 trillion business. Public services are designed to provide vital social and economic necessities such as health care and education affordably, universally and on the basis of need. They exist because markets can’t produce these outcomes. Furthermore, public services are fundamental to ensuring fair competition for business, and they provide effective regulation to avoid environmental, social and economic disasters, such as the GFC and global warming. Even the most die-hard supporters of FTA’s admit that there are winners and losers.

New South Wales (NSW) Australia, Nurses and Midwives’ Association organiser Michael Whaites said: “Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey have been saying that healthcare expenditure is unsustainable, but Trade Minister Andrew Robb is quietly engaged in negotiations that could potentially see scarce healthcare dollars going overseas,”. And that “You can ask whether the government is working in a co-ordinated manner, and indeed what is their real intention on the future of Medicare?” Professor Jane Kelsey, an expert on trade in services at the University of Auckland, warns that health-service-exporting countries such as Australia could find qualified staff being diverted to health export services “that often have better pay and facilities, eroding the personnel base for public facilities and perpetuating inequalities in the health care system”. Education and training investments could also be diverted “to benefit foreign healthcare users, rather than local citizens and taxpayers”.

In August 2014 the Australian Health Department called for expressions of interest from private players interested in taking over the payments of $29bn each year in health and pharmaceutical benefits currently being managed by the Human Services. Human Services Minister Marise Payne said much of the Department of Human Services (DHS) IT infrastructure for processing the payments was old and needed to be replaced and that the private sector might have cheaper solutions. The government claims it is merely testing the market with an initial expression of Interest process, not via cost analysis or efficiencies already provided. Australia Post stuck it’s hand up from the get go and other Australian corporations that are keen are – Eftpos and Stellar (Telstra) with overseas companies being Oracle, Fuji-Xerox, SAP, Accenture and Serco.

It’s hard not to feel that we are being attacked at from all angles with corporations eying off developing and developed countries public health services for profit. With an Australian government seemingly hell bent on dismantling it’s Medicare system with outsourcing payments while introducing co-payments, it’s looking clearer now as to what the current Australian government has planned. The rise of corporations and their lust for profits no matter what the cost is, has to stop. Our public services are not the latest money making scheme for corporates, whom no doubt once plundered and ruined will be nowhere to be found or at the very least held accountable for their actions. Governments must get out of bed with them and understand that they don’t know best and an even mix of private and government is required sometimes, but not all of the time. The people elect governments to govern and make decisions, we do not elect corporations. Take some advice from them but if you give them an inch they will take a mile as we have been seeing in recent years. Greed is worming it’s way in globally under the guise of competition and job creation. I find this very hard to believe for your average person, for the corporations yes, they keep getting richer and the equality gap wider. Low income countries delivering GDP growth and poverty reduction will be hardest hit and that’s not fair with many only just recovering from the GFC. The US has the most to benefit from this and all other FTA’s, this also needs to stop, they aren’t the biggest power anymore and even if they were why should they get all of the advantages? People over profits, after all you can’t make profits without us and there’s no need to ruin everyone globally once again for it.