No end to the cruelty as Manus centre closes

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Yet again, the Manus Island Detention Centre, noted euphemistically as a place where people's credentials before law are processed, is in the news. Since the ruling by the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court in April 2016, Australia and PNG officials have been trading shots and views on responsibility for the 718 men on the Lombrum Naval Base. (The current number is closer to 600.)

Fiona Katauskas cartoonThe closure of the centre, however, is not the end of it. The men are to be moved to purpose-built accommodation in the town of Lorengau. There is both fear and reluctance. The cruelty, in other words, is merely being displaced. 'Essentially', noted Amnesty International Pacific researcher Kate Shuetze, 'there's no plan here for them to be able to rebuilt their lives.' With this has come the unwillingness on the part of local authorities to shoulder the burden.

By the end of Monday, the PNG immigration authorities had issued a notice to those remaining in the centre that it would close by 5pm on Tuesday. 'All power and water will cease. There will be no food supplied — and no dinner service this evening.' There was an ominous tone in the announcement: the site would be converted into an active military base, with the PNG Defence Force moving in, by the end of Tuesday.

Of great concern is the role being played by the PNG mobile squad to enforce the letter of the announcement, an outfit noted for an assortment of human rights abuses and predations, notably when protecting extraction industries in the country.

Previous efforts on the part of the police gave the impression of even-handed neutrality. This was a mess the forces had to navigate. PNG Police Commissioner Gari Baki insisted that, 'The safety of both the refugees and government workers plus staff of leading agencies is not to be taken for granted given the tension that is now being expressed by the locals on Manus Island.'

PNG immigration minister Petrus Thomas has more or less claimed that his government will insist on total Australian control over what has become a prolonged humanitarian mess, insisting in a statement that 'PNG has no obligation under the current arrangement to deal with these two cohorts and they remain the responsibility of Australia to pursue third-country options and liaise with respective governments of the non-refugees for their voluntary or involuntary return.'

The most startling aspect to the exercise is the continued nonsense that settlement on Manus is a viable option for refugees who span a spectrum of countries as diverse as Myanmar and Iran. Settling such individuals in the Manus community is no less a sentence by other means, an open invitation to brutality.

 

"Manus, along with its ghastly twin centre on Nauru, has been a calamity in the annals of international refugee law."

 

Kurdish refugee and activist Behrouz Boochani put it simply and despondently when interviewed by CNN: 'The refugees don't feel safe in the community, because the local community is not ready to accept them.'

Ron Knight, the local Manus Island MP, paints a rather colourful picture of social dysfunction. Everything would work if all behaved appropriately and in a civil fashion. But there were a few uncomfortable facts behind the social interaction between refugees and members of the Manus populace.

'You have young men who have been locked up for four or five years. They get a taste of freedom. You have young women in town who are attracted to these guys. They keep these relationships hidden. The fathers find out, or the families find out, and it becomes a big issue.'

Human Rights Watch has been on the case of the Manus Island centre for some time, and the picture has merely become more hideous with time. In 2015, the organisation noted instances of severe abuse, inhumane treatment and prolonged neglect. On October 25, the organisation released another report covering a range of incidents affecting refugees who had found their way into the community. Knife attacks were reported. Instances of robbery and beatings were also documented.

'While many Papuans have welcomed the new arrivals to Manus Island', state the findings, 'nearly every refugee and asylum seeker Human Rights Watch interviewed described how they had experienced or witnessed violence, threats of violence, or robberies by groups of often intoxicated young local men.'

Manus, along with its ghastly twin centre on Nauru, has been a calamity in the annals of international refugee law. But even more than merely diminishing the claims of individuals fleeing persecution and harm, the conduct on the part of Australian authorities has diminished such basic assumptions as the rule of law and fairness.

Obligations on the part of all powerful parties to resettle vulnerable populations in a manner that is safe and feasible have been shirked. Even at the final hour, claimed a worried Schuetze, the PNG government had not detailed 'whether these men would be allowed to work in the community and whether they're freely able to move around the country'. The punishment, in short, is set to continue.

 

 

Binoy KampmarkDr Binoy Kampmark is a former Commonwealth Scholar who lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.

Topic tags: Binoy Kampmark, Manus Island, asylum seekers, Papua New Guinea


 

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Existing comments

Thank you for your informative article Binoy. It is utterly shocking and tragic and totally unjust what is being perpetrated on these men in Manus who are asylum seekers not criminals. They are being treated so inhumanely. Criminals would be treated much better. I think we must keep protesting about this until they are brought to Australia or New Zealand.
Monica Phelan | 01 November 2017


The situation on Manus is absolutely disgusting and a massive slur on our reputation as a welcoming country. History will judge us severely. I am saddened that our Government has abandoned these people to the PNG authorities who can't even properly govern their own people let alone the refugees. So very sad!
Gavin | 01 November 2017


The experience throughout Europe over the last two years raises the important question of the difference between a refugee and an illegal immigrant. The figures indicate that almost 70% of immigrants who have invaded Europe ( in the millions) from northern Africa and the Middle East are not fleeing persecution but are simply seeking a better lifestyle and income. They pay no heed to the laws governing entry to another sovereign country and pay large sums to people smugglers for transit to Europe predominantly to Italy. ( Chancellor Merkel, in a response that can only be described as cultural suicide, has removed the laws in Germany and her madness has spread around Europe). The vast majority of immigrants are young men aged in their late teens to early thirties. Crime rates in all countries which they inhabit have risen enormously, particularly that of rape, something which is now taking place unchecked in the streets in broad daylight. Unchecked because authorities are afraid of being branded racist. In England, Germany, Italy and the Scandinavian countries, the local populace that is financially supporting this immigration is also paying a huge debt in the erosion of their own freedom and fundamentally Christian culture. We are now seeing public protests from local citizens with protesters being sprayed with water cannons, some being imprisoned and accused of being neo-Nazi's. Meanwhile the rape, robbery and violence perpetrated by members of the immigrant community go unpunished on the grounds of "human compassion". Saudi Arabia, alone amongst Muslim countries, has donated millions of dollars "to relieve the situation in Europe" but has designated that the money is to be used solely to build up to 200 mosques! The world has gone mad. It is time to wake up and accept that some of the people detained are fleeing persecution and some are not - some are refugees and some are not. Identified refugees have been taken in by Australia. Many of those who were not refugees have returned voluntarily to their countries of origin. Have those still retained been found not to be refugees? Have they been found to be attempting to enter Australia illegally for their own purposes from countries where they are not threatened by war or in any other way (eg Indonesia)? I suspect the answer may be yes.
john frawley | 01 November 2017


Well written & summarised. My heart breaks for these poor refugees. Shame Australia shame.
Christine Vincent | 01 November 2017


Thank you for this informative piece. There are some things that human beings should not do to other human beings and yet everywhere there are horrible examples of injustice and inhumanity. Someone needs to be held responsible and maybe we can find enough humans to take on the task one by one. Governments seem to hide behind a collective hand-wringing so let's find a way to see the individuals and ask them to solve some part of the catastrophe.
Margie Mcdougall | 01 November 2017


I still can't believe that Australia is a party to such lack of basic human rights I am ashamed of our govts , lack of compassion , and deliberate decision, to cause more suffering, to those traumatised people, calling out for our assistance. We are now well known as a selfish country, and say "enough is enough" Bring those refugees here, and help them t live a new life with us .Shame Australia!!!
Bernie | 01 November 2017


I agree with John frawley’s remarks.
Sarah | 02 November 2017


I cannot believe that Australia with all our blessings as a nation can be involved in leaving designated refugees on Manus in possibly more danger of persecution than that which they fled from. We need decent political leadership to get a bipartisan response to move them to safety to Australia or New Zealand. Human rights and protection should now be the main agenda. I live in shame for what we have done as a nation,
Margaret Hetherton | 02 November 2017


Thanks, Binoy. For four and more years we have been outlining why we detest the nastiness of Scott Morrison and the present chap with severe blood-on-his-hands - the Bjelke-DUTTON man! And their puppet-masters Abbott - and now Tremble! Over quite a few years now I have been a member of a social justice group - wasting no opportunity to shine a spotlight on the abuse, torture and murders committed by the LNP thugs - though the Katauskas cartoon showing the ALP hiding behind the palm tree implicates their own inhumanity - and both are culpable to varying degrees for the suffering they have inflicted. And must pay for their fascist ways - out of their own family estates I would argue - not from the common wealth of our nation (Peter DUTTON is already responsible for some 17 million dollars of compensation - he should pay that from his salary, bank, land holdings or party funds - is my contention.) It is time for some kind of civil rudeness to those who have not stood up for these people on Manus or on Nauru or caught up in other legalistic spiderwebs woven by our politicians to entangle their lives in hopelessness. They can no longer be called "Honourable"! The Minister - the Dishonourable Peter Dutton. The PM - The Dishonourable Malcolm TREMBLE! u.s.w.
Jim KABLE | 02 November 2017


Strewth! If I felt the deep sense of shame in my country that some admit to over this matter I would migrate to New Zealand. Perhaps in not being deeply ashamed I am being un-Australian and should thus migrate anyway!
john frawley | 03 November 2017


I agree with John Frawleys comments.
franklin | 03 November 2017


My wife May volunteers as a JP at a clinic for human beings seeking asylum;to assist with form filling. Mind you,she as an intelligent, educated school teacher and I (doctor) have to really concentrate on these contrived,,convoluted,compositions.There is little chance that someone from another country will satisfy the unrealistic requirements of our unfair Government's access requirements. Most will not succeed in their visa applications because the process achieves its objective : to deter and disillusion. UNHCR have deemed 90% of our fellow human beings on Manus and Nauru to be legitimate refugees. Seriously! would any sane person endanger the lives of their family on a hazardous journey to Australia for financial gain? Ironically the leaky boats and fake life-jackets were low risk compared to the inhumane treatment inflicted by our gutless governments. Stopping the boats is not justified by stopping to be empathic and fair to our fellow man. So easy to deny the legitimacy of their plight when we are here safe, dry, warm and over fed. 122M to postpone a no brainer decision on essential human rights.!!!!! Bill and Malcolm grow some balls: put aside your ambitions and play fair...pretend they are family!
Denis Bartrum | 03 November 2017


With the announcement today that New Zealand will take 150 of the Manus Island detainees, I wonder whether it will ask the already deployed Australian navy to help deter the Indonesian people smugglers from resuming their business with New Zealand the targeted new destination.
john frawley | 03 November 2017


Why is NZ only offering to take 150? If virtuous sympathy is the reason, take all of the 600. An extra 450 is a drop in the ocean in a population of just under 5 million. It doesn’t even need Australia to do much. Winston Peters can tell the PNG government that all Manus Island detainees who apply within a month to settle in PNG will automatically be given the option of exchanging their PNG residency for NZ residency. The detainees, like consumers in a free market responding to incentives and self-interest, will solve (or dissolve) Australia’s problem themselves. Make it a one-off deal like the US agreement with Australia so Australia can’t argue that this NZ-PNG deal, of which it has no part, will have the consequence of restarting the people moving business to Australia. NZ can fix this situation at any time. Why hasn’t it started?
Roy Chen Yee | 05 November 2017


I cannot understand what hold Turnbull has on these prisoners on Manus. They have been abandoned and left to the mercy of PNG who do not want them. New Zealand has offered help so why can't they simply negotiate when to send for the refugees? They have to go somewhere safe as soon as possible.
Mira Zeimer | 07 November 2017


Building on Roy's comment, Australia could even take some of these people. No reason why not, just excuses so far. It can't be too difficult for a Government with goodwill at its core.
Brett | 09 November 2017


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