Crisis in Australia's refugee prison island

By agency reporter
November 1, 2017

A crisis is developing on Manus Island – the former World War II outpost off the coast of Papua New Guinea – used by Australia as an offshore detention centre for refugees and asylum seekers.

The centre which houses over 600 refugees was officially closed on Tuesday (31 November 2017). But the detainees have barricaded themselves in and are refusing to leave because they say the new accommodation they are being sent to in Lorengau is less safe than where they are now. They also complain that since security guards left, locals are coming in and looting the camp.

Behrouz Boochani, an Iranian journalist who has been held at the camp since August 2014 tweeted today: "Some refugees are keeping watch at the centre to alert others if anyone attacks. A big part of the centre has no access to power."

"The refugees on Manuys are going to sleep in fear, stress and hunger. Some of the awake to keep watch. We couldn't get enough rest this week."

Detainees say conditions in the camp are becoming unbearable. While temperatures are over 31C, water supplies have now been cut off. The last food packs were distributed to them on Sunday night.

Australia is the only country in the world to mandatorily detain asylum seekers who arrive without authorisation.

Australia's Jesuit Social Services have appealed for the men to be spared further emotional and physical harm and be resettled in Australia or suitable third countries.

"More than 600 men are directly impacted by the closure of the Manus Island detention centre today, and are now unreasonably expected to relocate to another situation of danger," said Jesuit Social Services Acting CEO, Sally Parnell.

"The Federal Government has subjected these vulnerable people – many of whom have escaped trauma and persecution in their home countries – to needless punishment at the expense of finding a durable solution, despite the men being in Australia's care".

With only a small number of people (25 as of early October) resettled under an Australia-US refugee settlement deal, the remaining residents are expected to relocate to other sites on Manus Island or elsewhere in Papua New Guinea.

"We know that these people have already been subjected to inhumane treatment and inadequate conditions in the detention centre, and that many people fear violence in the alternative facilities offered to them," said Ms Parnell.

"By cutting off access to food, drinking water, medical treatment, education programmes and electricity from today, the Federal Government is just treating these people as political pawns; it shows they are fixated on making their lives miserable."

Jesuit Social Services and the Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum (CAPSA urge the Federal Government to treat all people in Australia's care in offshore detention facilities humanely.

"We join millions of Australians in saying that these people's lives have been kept on hold for long enough. These men must be given the opportunity to resettle in Australia or a suitable alternate country. It is time for our political leaders to show genuine leadership by guaranteeing the safety of these men, giving them a chance to rebuild their lives and facilitating durable solutions that support this."

Jesuit Fr Frank Brennan said in a film on his Facebook page on Tuesday: "We Australians have a humanitarian crisis on our doorstep on Manus Island and it's our fault. We need to do something about it right now!"

* Independent Catholic News


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