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Manus Island Closure Putting Refugees At Risk of Violence Says Advocates

31 October 2017 at 5:27 pm
Luke Michael
Refugee advocates have slammed the government’s handling of the Manus Island detention centre closure, accusing the government of breaching human rights and putting detainees at risk of violence.

Luke Michael | 31 October 2017 at 5:27 pm


Manus Island Closure Putting Refugees At Risk of Violence Says Advocates
31 October 2017 at 5:27 pm

Refugee advocates have slammed the government’s handling of the Manus Island detention centre closure, accusing the government of breaching human rights and putting detainees at risk of violence.

Australia’s offshore processing centre at Manus Island officially closed on Tuesday, but more than 600 refugees and asylum seekers are refusing to leave the facility, citing safety concerns.

The detainees received notice overnight on Monday that the site would be returned to the Papua New Guinea (PNG) Defence Force, and anyone refusing to leave would be “liable for removal from an active PNG military base”.

Refugee Action Collective spokesperson Chris Breen, told Pro Bono News that detainees were refusing to leave because they feared for their safety and faced living in inadequate facilities.

“The PNG government, with the Australian government, is closing the centre and trying to force the refugees to three locations in Lorengau,” Breen said.

“The refugees don’t want to go to those locations for a number of reasons. The first one is they fear for their safety. There has been a spate of violent attacks on refugees that have moved there.

“Also the new facilities are inadequate. One of those locations isn’t ready. Two of them have no security at all and they’ll be no food provided. There’s no mental health services. It’ll be a disaster to force those men to Lorengau.”

Breen said the government’s response to the closure was in breach of the detainees’ human rights.

“Power and water have been cut off to the refugees, workers and security have abandoned their post, leaving them to fend for themselves and food has been stopped,” he said.

“The men are saying they are going to stay at the centre, so you have a siege situation.

“There’s an immediate danger of violence to the refugees, either from authorities or the locals. Doctors for refugees have warned that it would be a mental health catastrophe if refugees end up at Lorengau and there’s an ongoing fear of facing attacks.”

Australian Greens immigration spokesperson Nick McKim, who has been witnessing the situation unfold on Manus Island, said he had “no doubt that we are witnessing a humanitarian disaster”.

“It is a catastrophe that Peter Dutton and Malcolm Turnbull have caused and it is a catastrophe for which they bear the ultimate responsibility,” McKim said.

“There is no solution for the nightmare that our government has created except to end these people’s’ suffering and bring them to Australia immediately.

“The reason these men are refusing to leave the detention centre, despite having no access to water in the soaring heat, is the very real threat of violence facing them if they do. The situation here is becoming more combustible every minute.”

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie also slammed the government’s response to the closure.

“The Australian government is cruelly cutting off electricity, water and food to the detainees and withdrawing medical care and trauma support,” Wilkie said.

“The government would have us believe that these men will be transferred to other facilities and all will be well. But the other facilities are unsafe and lack basic medical facilities. What’s more many people fear for their safety because of recent violent incidents in the community.

“If the Australian government is going to lock people up in these camps they at least have a duty of care to ensure that they are treated humanely and have access to basic medical facilities.”

But the coalition government defended their handling of the closure, and maintained the alternative facilities they provided were adequate.

In a statement, the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton said: “All [detainees] have been informed for a considerable period of time that there is safe and secure alternate accommodation where health and other services will be maintained.

“The constant claims of [refugees] and advocates’ about their situation in Manus are nothing more than subterfuge.

“They have long claimed the Manus RPC was a ‘hellhole’ – but the moment it was to be closed they demanded it be kept open.”

Dutton also had a scathing response to McKim’s advocacy on the issue.

“Senator McKim’s duplicity is breathtaking,” he said.

“He sat through Senate Estimates hearings a week ago where officials from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection provided information in great detail about the facilities and services that would continue to be provided on Manus Island, but chooses to ignore that factual information in favour of inaccurate and incorrect claims.

“Senator McKim claims to care for these men, but continues to provide them with false information and uses them for cheap political stunts to build his public profile.”

Labor’s immigration spokesman Shayne Neumann blamed the government for fuelling refugees’ uncertainty and called on them to “de-escalate tensions” in the region.

“Peter Dutton’s failure to answer basic questions about arrangements in PNG after the closure of the Regional Processing Centre has fuelled refugees’ uncertainty about moving to new accommodation,” Neumann said.

“The Turnbull government has known about the closure of Manus Island RPC for more than six months but has been unclear and unwilling to explain how refugees will continue to have their basic human needs met – including access to security, health and welfare services.

“It is incumbent on Turnbull government to do what they can to de-escalate tensions on Manus Island and work with PNG authorities to ensure the safety of refugees, staff and locals.”

Breen said the Australian government had a responsibility to remedy the situation, and called for the refugees to be brought to Australia.

“There’s no jobs or permanent security in Lorengau and there’s hostility from some of the locals. There’s no future there,” he said.

“Australia needs to find them permanent solutions. We think the best way would be to end the four years of torture and bring the refugees here to Australia, where they sought asylum in the first place.”

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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