Taiwan Ministry confirms secret deal with Australia to medically treat Nauru refugees

10 Nauru refugees transferred to Taiwan for emergency medical treatment since secret deal reached in 2017

Nauru Regional Processing Centre

Nauru Regional Processing Centre (By Wikimedia Commons)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed today (June 24) that a bilateral memorandum of understanding was signed by Australian and Taiwanese officials last September allowing for asylum seekers and refugees in Nauru in need of urgent medical care to be sent to Taiwan.

Last May Deputy Representative Shyang-yun Cheng of the Taiwan Representative Office in the U.K. first shed light on the issue when he wrote a letter to The Guardian about the transfer of an Iranian refugee and her 17-year-old son from Nauru to the Taiwan Adventist Hospital by Australian officials. Shyang wrote the letter to clarify false allegations that the refugees were forcibly returned to Nauru without completing treatment, confirmed by the hospital, and to highlight Taiwan's commitment to "provide high-quality medical support and humanitarian assistance."

The memorandum of understanding states that "refugees and asylum seekers staying in Nauru who require urgent medical treatment can be transferred to Taiwan, with valid medical visas and confirmation from medical personnel for the requirement of such treatment," according to Shyang.

Nauru (Image from Google Maps)

Several patients have so far been sent to Taiwan from Nauru since the deal. The agreement aims to discourage refugees from being treated in Australian hospitals and then staying on as residents following treatment, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. "Medical transfer is not a pathway to settlement in Australia," said a spokesperson for the Australian Department of Home Affairs.

Foreign Affairs spokesperson Li Hsien-chang (李憲章) said that the emergency treatments began in January this year and so far Taiwan hospitals have treated 10 people from Nauru under this memorandum, reported CNA.

Earlier this week however the Federal Court of Australia granted a 30-year-old Somalian woman in Nauru medical transfer to Australia for an abortion. The woman is the victim of female genital mutilation (FGM) and argued that she could not receive adequate medical care in Taiwan.

The Australian government has never announced the memorandum of understanding between the two countries.

Taiwan has long provided aid to Nauru, a political ally who recognizes Taiwan as a nation, however the country has murky refugee laws. Since Taiwan is not part of the 1951 Refugee Convention, it does not have to hear asylum applications.

The Nauru Regional Processing Centre is a controversial Australian immigration detention facility that first opened in 2001.