Human Rights Activists Continue to Push to End Manus ‘Chaos’
Wednesday, 8th November 2017 at 5:14 pm
Human rights barrister Julian Burnside has joined with civil society leaders calling on the incoming New Zealand government to independently pursue negotiations with Papua New Guinea to resettle refugee and asylum seeker men from Manus Island.
In an open letter signed by 13 legal and not-for-profit leaders, as well as human rights activists, Burnside called on New Zealand’s new prime minister, Jacinda Ardern to “intervene in the entirely preventable humanitarian disaster unfolding on Manus Island”.
Australia’s offshore processing centre at Manus Island officially closed on 31 October, but more than 600 refugees and asylum seekers have refused to leave the facility, citing safety concerns. Food and water to the facility have been removed.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull turned down a renewed offer from New Zealand to resettle some refugees from the Papua New Guinea detention centre.
In the letter to Ardern, Burnside said: “We applaud your government for renewing New Zealand’s previous offer to resettle 150 refugees from Manus Island and Nauru. We are aware that on Sunday the Australian prime minister, Mr Turnbull, refused your renewed offer at this stage. This is not acceptable.
“The men who have languished in Papua New Guinea for over four years need urgent access to a durable solution. We urge you to actively pursue negotiations with the Papua New Guinean government and the UNHCR Regional Representative to resettle as many of the men from Manus Island as soon as possible.”
Burnside said that it was “with regret” he was writing to Ardern “to request that New Zealand step in to resolve this crisis when it is so clearly an Australian responsibility”.
“We believe, however, that the moral leadership New Zealand can take on this issue will increase the pressure on the Australian government to work with resettlement countries to resolve the current crisis. We will do all in our power to assist you,” he said.
Signatories to the letter included Dr John Falzon CEO, national council, St Vincent de Paul Society.
He told Pro Bono News an international spotlight was being placed on “Australia’s appalling and unconscionable lack of responsibility and compassion for people who have legitimately sought refuge”.
“First we have consigned them to a nightmare of incarceration and now we have abandoned them to chaos, endangering their health their physical and mental health and their lives,” Falzon said.
“This is such a grave situation we are deeply grateful for the New Zealand prime minister’s gracious offer to do something practical and we wish to express our feeling and our hopes as representatives of civil society.”
Falzon said Turnbull’s rejection of the NZ offer was “beyond frustrating”.
“It’s heartbreaking and it deeply angers us that our nation’s leader is quite deliberately forcing these men whose only crime is to have had hope. They have been systematically and cruelly punished for the crime of hope,” he said.
“We will keep on fighting to secure the safety of these men.”
The plight of the Manus Island men also saw actor Russell Crowe offering to provide homes and jobs for six Manus Island asylum-seekers in a personal tweet.
Crowe appealed to Turnbull saying he had “reached out to the prime minister” asking if there was a way ordinary Australians could help.
I’ve thought about this . I believe I could house and find jobs for 6. I’m sure there’d be other Australians who would do the same
— Russell Crowe (@russellcrowe) November 1, 2017
In response Falzon said he was “deeply moved by the passion for social justice and compassion and the very clear practicality of people’s solidarity” over the issue.
“They are deeply touched by the plight of these men and it’s a powerful and beautiful outpouring of solidarity and this is something our own government needs to take heed of,” he said.
The appeal to the NZ government also comes as Human Rights Law Centre’s director of legal advocacy, Daniel Webb, has been named as an inaugural winner of the Global Pluralism Award – awarded by the Canadian-based Global Centre for Pluralism.
Webb is heading to Canada for the award on 15 November where he will receive CAD $50,000 (A $51,200).
HRLC director Hugh de Kretser said the award was a worthy recognition of Webb’s work with refugees, noting that Webb had been “a prominent and compelling voice for a humane response to people who come to Australia by boat seeking our protection”, most notably leading the HRLC’s work on the #LetThemStay campaign.
“Daniel has travelled to Manus three times and worked closely with the men detained there to amplify their voices,” de Kretser said.
“These men have been held there for more than four years. They’ve been beaten. They’ve been shot at. Some have died. And they’ve had to endure the torment of not knowing if or when their ordeal will ever end.
“Daniel has led calls to end the cruelty and bring them here to give them a chance to rebuild their lives in safety.”
Signatories to the Burnside open letter include:
- Dr Margaret Beavis MBBS FRACGP MPH immediate past president, Medical Association for Prevention of War (Australia);
- Dr Alison Broinowski writer and former Australian diplomat;
- Scott Cosgriff chair, national committee, Australian Lawyers for Human Rights;
- John Falzon CEO, National Council of St Vincent de Paul Society;
- Andrew Farran international lawyer;
- Michael Hamel-Green emeritus professor, Victoria University Melbourne;
- Marion Le AM registered migration agent; specialist in international law and refugee resettlement;
- Rebecca Minty human rights lawyer;
- Kellie Tranter lawyer and human rights activist;
- Dr Sue Wareham OAM president, Medical Association for Prevention of War (Australia); and
- Matthew Zagor associate professor, director of law reform and social justice, ANU College of Law.