3 Mar 2020

    Australia Sent A Young Gay Man To Detention On A Tiny Island. He Died. Australia Says It’s The Island’s Problem.

    Australia: This is a matter for Nauru. Nauru: We're not holding an inquest.

    This is Part 3 of a BuzzFeed News series.

    Part 1: Australia Has Forgotten The 24-Year-Old Who Died In Detention. This Whistleblower Nurse Hasn't.

    Part 2: A Young Gay Man Died Mysteriously In An Island Prison. His Family And Friends Want Answers.

    The Australian government has failed to investigate the shock death of a 24-year-old refugee it sent to Nauru because he died in a foreign jurisdiction, government officials said on Monday evening.

    Rakib Khan died in 2016 in the Republic of Nauru Hospital, three years after he was banished to the small island nation after arriving on Australia's Christmas Island by boat. He fled Bangladesh because he was persecuted for being gay.

    Supplied.

    Rakib Khan.

    An air ambulance had arrived on Nauru to evacuate Khan to Australia, but he died before he could board the plane. In his final hours, he was treated by doctors contracted by the Australian government.

    A whistleblower nurse has told BuzzFeed News that he did not receive prompt and adequate treatment when he first arrived at the hospital and was treated by its doctors.

    Four years later, mystery still surrounds his death. A pathologist was unable to determine Khan's cause of death, and his mother and brother have told BuzzFeed News of their deep sorrow that they still do not know why he died.

    "Mr Khan died in Nauru. Any inquiry into his death is a matter for the government of Nauru," major general Craig Furini of the home affairs department told Senate Estimates on Monday evening.

    Department secretary Michael Pezzullo described any unexpected death as "unfortunate" and "tragic", but said "as a matter of law" the death occurred in the foreign jurisdiction of Nauru, and that Nauru's coronial processes would apply.

    "Questions of medical records, who the attending medical practitioners may or may not have been, the circumstances of death are really matters best directed to the government of Nauru," he said.

    Nauru has denied the family's requests for an inquest and did not respond to questions from BuzzFeed News.

    Bureaucrats revealed in the same hearing that the government has rejected a recommendation from a coroner that the attorney-general set up and fund a legislative framework to ensure independent judicial investigation of deaths of asylum seekers sent offshore.

    The attorney-general's department had reviewed the recommendation and "notes that it raises practical difficulties" and would "not be appropriate" for Australia to implement such a framework, home affairs general counsel Pip De Veau told senators.

    However, the Australian government is considering building the capacity of Nauru and Papua New Guinea to conduct coronial inquiries, De Veau said.

    The government had not previously responded to the recommendations made in the inquest of Hamid Khazaei, in July 2018.

    Pezzullo took on notice questions about whether the government had made inquiries to Nauru's government or the Republic of Nauru Hospital about the circumstances of Khan's death, whether it holds records about Khan's medical condition, and whether it can disclose those records to Khan's family.

    Pezzullo also agreed to take on notice Greens senator Nick McKim's question about whether the department would commission an independent inquiry into Khan's death.

    McKim urged Pezzullo to "place yourself in the situation of Mr Khan's mother and try to understand the distress that she's in, where she doesn't know how and why her son died while he was in Australia's care" when answering the questions.

    Hannah Ryan is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.

    Contact Hannah Ryan at hannah.ryan@buzzfeed.com.

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