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NFP Calls for Asylum Seeker Safety as Manus Set to Close

16 May 2017 at 7:09 pm
Wendy Williams
Asylum seekers on Manus Island must be brought to safety, according to not for profits speaking in the wake of reports that the more than 800 men have been told they must leave the Australian-funded detention centre so it can close.

Wendy Williams | 16 May 2017 at 7:09 pm


NFP Calls for Asylum Seeker Safety as Manus Set to Close
16 May 2017 at 7:09 pm

Asylum seekers on Manus Island must be brought to safety, according to not for profits speaking in the wake of reports that the more than 800 men have been told they must leave the Australian-funded detention centre so it can close.

According to various reports Papua New Guinea immigration officials told asylum seekers on Monday to “consider their options” and make way for the demolition of some of the centre’s accommodation blocks.

Those found to be refugees have been told they have the option of temporarily relocating to a so-called “transit centre” near the main town of Lorengau, settling in the PNG community, or returning to their countries of origin.

Kon Karapanagiotidis OAM, the CEO and founder of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, told Pro Bono News it was “disgusting”.

“It is an incredible, persistent example of the absolute dereliction of the [Australian government’s] duty of care to refugees, and the failure and collapsing of this dead-end model,” Karapanagiotidis said.

“It says a lot that there is no planning, there are no options, there is no consultation, they have no strategy, they have no idea, like they haven’t for the last four years plus, for the 865 men that are there.

“It’s like what will it take for this to be resolved?”

The news comes just days after Amnesty International released a report on Sunday showing bullets were fired directly into the Manus refugee centre on 14 April.

The briefing, In the Firing Line, which claimed the lives of refugees and asylum-seekers were in danger, contradicted initial claims made by the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection and the Papua New Guinea police that the soldiers only fired bullets into the air.

“Our investigation shows there is no doubt that on 14 April 2017 bullets were fired not only into the air but directly into the Manus refugee centre in a way that seriously endangered the lives of the people inside,” Amnesty International pacific researcher Kate Schuetze said.

“This was not an isolated incident. Refugees trapped on Manus Island have faced several violent attacks in the past. They are the direct result of an inherently abusive system put in place by the Australian government. Until that system is dismantled and the refugees are brought to safety, the threat to their lives will remain.”

Karapanagiotidis said the Australian government had a duty of care to protect the asylum seekers.

“[The detention centres] are ours, we run them, we fund them, we control them, we staff them with the people that we handpick,” he said.

“The Australian government is… by surrogate… taking people found to be refugees and asking them to return back to their countries, where the decision-makers, they have appointed, have found they have a well-grounded fear of being persecuted tortured or killed.

“Think about that for a moment, think about how breathtaking that is that the government is actually, by surrogate, engaging in something that is a breach of the crimes act in Australia.

“At the end of the day, the US deal could take months, it could take another year, who knows how long that one third could stay, and the ones found to be refugees who are not part of the US deal need to be resettled. [We must] take up New Zealand’s offer of the 150 places, take the rest here or find another safe country that is going to take them if our government is going to continue to dig in like this. These men have to be taken somewhere safe.

“Papua New Guinea is not safe. We know this. We know this from the deaths that have happened on there, we know that from the recent shots being fired into the detention centre itself, it is not safe. These men must be brought to safety.”

He said choosing to close the centres in a month was a “deliberate escalation point”.

“This is a psychological torture of these men and it is deliberately trying to create a situation of such extreme pressure and panic that they hope to break these men, in that state of fear, which is test your luck out in the community on your own or go back to your own country,” he said.

“And for the ones not found to be refugees, we’ve locked them up for four and a half years, we have severely damaged their mental and physical well being. These men now would have the risk of a refugee claim on the basis of having been out of their country of origin for five years, having to explain themselves, being returned as failed asylum seekers would in itself place them at risk of harm, given the countries that we are talking about. Countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Iran and Pakistan, so those not found to be refugees can’t be returned.”

Karapanagiotidis said it was politics “gone mad”.

“The only indicator that this works for [the government] is they still think there are votes in it and they have dug themselves into such a corner, at any cost and disregard for morality, human life, the law, economics, all the values they claim to espouse. They continue to torture these men and it is just disgusting,” he said.

“They are positioning themselves for the next election, which is ‘we stopped the boats’, ‘we said these people would never come here’.

“They actually want these men deported… so they can say: ‘Look these people were never refugees and look we’ve cleaned up Labor’s mess’. It is all politics gone mad. At any cost.”

St Vincent de Paul Society said the asylum seekers should be brought to Australia “now”.

“It is not an option for people found to be refugees to instead relocate to a so-called transit centre in the PNG community,” the Society’s National Council CEO Dr John Falzon said.

“It is well known that refugees who have already tried settling into the PNG community have found it too hard or too dangerous.”

The society was also critical of reports that those whose claims for asylum have been rejected should return to their countries of origin before the end of August, when a $20,000 cash incentive from the Australian government will cease.

“It is not an option for asylum seekers and refugees to return to their place of origin when doing so could result in persecution or harm,” Falzon said.

“Given a deal that would see the men relocated to the US is moving too slowly, the only viable thing to do is to bring them to Australia.”

Save the Children director of policy and public affairs Mat Tinkler told Pro Bono News asylum seekers needed to be given support.

“Save the Children welcomes the news that the detention centre on Manus Island will be closed imminently. If, as the Australian government insists, refugees will not be resettled in Australia, then it must ensure asylum seekers and refugees are given appropriate and necessary support to continue to process their claims or live in the community in Papua New Guinea if they wish to do so,” Tinkler said.

“We know from our time providing services on Nauru that uncertainty and a lack of hope has a devastating impact on the health and wellbeing of refugees and asylum seekers.

“The Australian government is responsible for the health and welfare of those who it has transferred offshore, and should ensure that appropriate pathways are made available for them to seek a positive future.”

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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