Manus Island: Australia abandons refugees to a life of uncertainty and peril

  • New facilities unsafe and do not meet basic needs
  • Refugees say they live with constant fear of violence
  • Australia must end policy of cruelty and neglect

The Australian Government has abandoned hundreds of men, leaving them in a situation that more closely resembles punishment than protection, Amnesty International said in .

documents how, since refugees were forcibly evicted from a detention centre on Manus Island in November 2017, they have been moved to newer but inadequate facilities where violence from the local community remains a constant threat.

“Moving refugees and asylum seekers from one hellish situation to another is not a solution. It is just prolonging these men’s suffering. The new centres on Manus Island are not only a safety risk, they leave people without the most basic services,” said Kate Schuetze, Amnesty International’s Pacific Researcher and author of the report.

While New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has repeated the offer to resettle 150 refugees held on Manus and Nauru per year within the New Zealand quota, Australia continues to decline the offer.

“New Zealand first made this offer in 2013. If Australia had accepted, by now we could have gotten 750 people out of the torture of indefinite detention. This is a human tragedy caused by a deliberately cruel policy. It has to stop,” said Grant Bayldon, Executive Director of Amnesty International New Zealand.

From one unsafe camp to another

On 31 October 2017 Australia withdrew all services to the initial refugee detention centre on Manus – where it sent hundreds of men as part of its illegal “offshore processing” policies. After the men in the centre staged peaceful protests and refused to voluntarily move to another place of indefinite detention, PNG police forcibly evicted and transferred them to three newer facilities in late November.

Amnesty International’s research – based on interviews with 55 refugees and asylum seekers – reveals that the new facilities are far from safe and fail to address the fundamental human rights issues in Australia’s treatment of people indefinitely detained in PNG.

Many refugees told Amnesty International that they were too afraid to leave the centres, since several refugees have been violently attacked by Manus locals in recent years and police have refused to act on even the most serious cases. The newer facilities offer even less protection than the previous centre – they are not only closer to Lorengau town, but also lack basic security infrastructure like fences.

Joinul Islam, a 42-year-old Bangladeshi man, said: “I’m not coming to Lorengau, because Lorengau is a very dangerous place. Three months ago, I came to Lorengau and someone cut my [arm]. They took my mobile and my money. It’s a very dangerous place…I don’t like to come to Lorengau.”

The refugees are caught in a hostile situation, where there have been repeated roadblocks by a landowner, disputes between service providers and local residents protesting. In recent weeks, a stand-off between rival security guard companies has compounded the problem. Guards from a company contracted by the Australian Government were reportedly driven out of some of the facilities by guards from a Manus company that wants the contract, resulting in confusion about who is in charge of providing security to refugees.

On 21 January 2018, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) also noted, “While no formal curfew is in place, local police have advised all refugees and asylum seekers to return to their accommodation by 6pm each evening to mitigate security risks.”

Ongoing harm

The psychological trauma of prolonged detention has taken a serious toll on refugees, with 88% suffering from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. Despite this, the new centres are only served by one small medical clinic and a public hospital, which are far from adequate to meet the mens’ needs.

PNG authorities have failed to provide regular information about claims for refugee status, access to identity and travel documents, or the ability to obtain work long-term, which is essential for meaningful integration with PNG society. Settlement in PNG has proven near impossible for those refugees who have attempted it, given the difficulties of earning a living and the constant threat of violence.

Australia must provide a real solution

After nearly five years, the Australian Government has provided no viable or sustainable options for the refugees it forcibly transferred to PNG. The men there are effectively forced to choose between returning to the country they fled or moving to a similarly abusive environment on Nauru.

A lucky few – around 83 so far – have been accepted for resettlement in the US, but this is a lengthy and arbitrary process that is not open to everyone.

“In the short term, authorities in Papua New Guinea and Australia must do everything they can to provide safety for the refugees and ensure their basic needs are met,” said Schuetze.