Aussies too complacent on refugee rights

francis-nathanAustralians may be known for their generosity, but when it comes to the plight of refugees we should be more morally aware.

That’s the message from Dr Francis Nathan (pictured) – an Adelaide-based eye surgeon who has spent the past two decades giving the gift of vision to hundreds of people in more than 20 countries worldwide.

“People say refugees are always trying to scam the system or jump the queue, and the common belief is that if you let one in it will open the floodgates, but what we all need to do is put ourselves in their shoes and if we can help we should,” Dr Nathan said.

“After all, the world is open to everyone so we must be more compassionate.”

Since 1988, the Malaysian-born ophthalmologist has led dozens of surgical expeditions to restore sight in those affected by cataracts, including his most recent trip to Samoa in August with the Fred Hollows Foundation.

For the past decade Dr Nathan’s humanitarian efforts have largely focused on the Middle East, working with such organisations as the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, Surgical Eye Expeditions and the Australian Friends of Palestine Association to perform cataract surgery, source and deliver donated supplies and teach his surgical techniques to other ophthalmologists.

His overseas aid experiences, particularly with Palestinian refugees, will be the focus of an upcoming refugee health seminar organised by Flinders University’s Health and Human Rights Group.

The event, on next Wednesday, October 12, will also feature refugee-turned-aid-worker Margaret Bako, the head of Migrant Health Services Jan Williams and a doctor from international medical relief organisation Médecins Sans Frontières as they tackle global refugee health and human rights.

Dr Nathan, a Senior Visiting Consultant at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and clinical lecturer at Adelaide University, said his talk will focus on the plight of Palestinian refugees following the creation of Israel as an independent state in 1948.

“People don’t realise it but even today, Palestinians don’t have access to adequate food, water or sanitation, not to mention things like road blocks by the Israeli Army which make it very difficult for people to access hospitals that are just 20 minutes away,” Dr Nathan said.

“But we are very fortunate to live in a county like Australia and as Australians there are lots of things we can do to help, even just by educating yourself so you learn the truth.”

The Refugee Health Seminar will be held on October 12 at Flinders University’s Health Sciences Lecture Theatre, Level 3, from 5.30pm to 10.30pm. For more information go to

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