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Refugee death was preventable: Australian coroner

Placards are seen before a march to demand humane treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, in Sydney on July 21, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

An Australian coroner rules that the death in 2014 of an asylum seeker at a notorious Canberra-run Pacific camp was “preventable,” calling on the government to improve its healthcare services to offshore detention centers.

Iranian national Hamid Khazaei, 24, lost his life in September 2014, two weeks after he contracted a leg infection and was transferred from Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island to the capital, Port Moresby, and then a Brisbane hospital.

Queensland State coroner Terry Ryan published his findings about the case on Monday, saying  his death “was the result of the compounding effects of multiple errors,” including delays in treating or moving him.

“Mr. Khazaei’s death was preventable,” Ryan wrote in his findings. “If Mr. Khazaei’s clinical deterioration was recognized and responded to in a timely way at the (Manus) clinic, and he was evacuated to Australia within 24 hours of developing severe sepsis, he would have survived.”

Under Canberra’s harsh immigration policy, asylum-seekers who attempt to reach Australia by boat are sent to detention centers in Papua New Guinea and Nauru for processing.

They are blocked from entering Australia even if they gain refugee status.

The government contracts a medical provider to deliver health services at the camps, but doctors have previously criticized the facilities as inadequate.

The United Nations has called on Australia to end its inhumane refugee policy.

Ryan said similar deaths could be avoided if asylum seekers were relocated to less remote regions where there were better healthcare services, such as Australia or New Zealand.

He said, however, that this was “highly unlikely” given Canberra’s tough anti-refugee policies. He called on the government to provide them with higher standards of healthcare.

The coroner recommended regular audits of the clinics, for critical units to be set up near camps and for the Port Moresby hospital’s intensive care facilities to be upgraded to Australian standards.

Australia’s Home Affairs department said it was reviewing the findings, which drew reactions from human rights groups.

Human Rights Watch said medical care for the refugees detained on Manus Island had got “worse not better” since Khazaei died.

The Doctors for Refugees advocacy group also called the findings an “indictment of Australia’s substandard and dangerous health care provisions” for detainees.

The Manus camp was shut late last year after a PNG court ruled it was unconstitutional, with the then 600 detainees sent to transition centers.

More than 240 men, women and children remain on Nauru Island, according to recent Australian immigration detention figures.

Canberra has sought to send those recognized as refugees to third countries such as the United States, and more than 100 have been resettled there, according to reports.

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