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11 delegates from Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Indonesia were warmly welcomed by the asbestos safety and eradication community in Australia when they attended the 2022 Asbestos Safety and Management Conference held in the World Heritage listed Blue Mountains.

They joined 340 participants from all over Australia including asbestos researchers, unions, victim’s groups, regulators and government agencies, local councils and removal companies to share experiences, learn about managing Australia’s terrible asbestos legacy and to provide updates on the situation in Southeast Asia.

Occupational Medicine Specialist Dr. Anna Suraya and Mr. Surya Ferdian from the Local Initiative for OHS Network (LION) presented to a packed auditorium about the dire situation in Indonesia, where asbestos and asbestos containing materials (ACM) such as roof sheets are imported and manufactured at an alarming scale. Tragically for those exposed to asbestos, there is little clinical research and no testing facilities available, so people are going undiagnosed and will continue to unless urgent support is generated. Dr. Anna also met with clinical specialists and research institutions to share knowledge and look at potential avenues of collaboration during her visit to Perth hosted by Unions WA.

Dr Anna said: “Thank you very much for giving us the opportunity to learn from the conference and the journey. Hope we can continue the collaboration to make a better working relationship.”

Dr Anna Suraya from Binawan University, Indonesia pictured centre with Indonesian ban asbestos campaigners Surya Ferdian from LION, Simon Millman MP WA, WA IR Minister Bill Jouhnston and Indonesian Perth Consul General Mrs Listiana Operananta in Perth.

Sadly, Indonesia is not alone. Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos also importing vast quantities of ACM. At side-meetings with asbestos agencies, regulators, victims’ groups and unions, delegates from the Mekong countries were able to raise their issues and received an outpouring of support and solidarity, with many Australian practitioners unaware of the scope of the problem amongst countries in our region, let alone the fact that asbestos is still being traded into these countries.

The Cambodian delegation also visited Melbourne, where Mr. Sok Kin, President of the Building and Wood Workers Trade Union Federation Cambodia (BWTUC) met Victorian MP’s and unions at Parliament House in Melbourne.

Mr. Sok Kin (pictured centre right) and APHEDA Country Manager Veasna Nuon (pictured centre left) surrounded by Victorian MPs and union supporters, provided compelling stories of worker’s struggles in the face of harassment and arrests in Cambodia. They spoke of the challenges to eradicate asbestos and the progress being made in the Asbestos – Not Here, Not Anywhere campaign, with MP’s and unions expressing solidarity and offering help.

The lessons learned from the devastating asbestos legacy in Australia and the messages of support and solidarity will travel back with the delegates to their respective countries. Australian’s have a long history of standing with countries in South East Asia to achieve justice. If you would also like to help the Asbestos – Not Here, Not Anywhere campaign, please contact Steve Mullins, APHEDA’s Asbestos Campaign Coordinator on smullins@apheda.org.au

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The delegation’s visit to Australia was made possible thanks to the generous financial and institutional support of the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency, the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS), the Asia Ban Asbestos Network and Unions WA. APHEDA would also like to thank the many people who gave their time to meet and host the delegation during their visit.

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