Manus and Nauru
Why are asylum seekers held on Manus and Nauru?
Manus Island and Nauru first became the locations for Australia’s offshore immigration detention centres in 2001, when former Prime Minister John Howard launched the “Pacific Solution”.
Labor reopened them in 2012 as part of a plan to prevent any asylum seeker arriving by boat from gaining resettlement in Australia. Liz Thompson, a former migration agent involved in refugee-assessment interviews on Manus, described the process on SBS’s Dateline as a “farce”, saying, “Manus Island is an experiment in the ultimate logic of deterrence, designed to frustrate the hell out of people and terrify them so that they go home.”
The purpose of dumping people in such remote locations is to deny them proper legal support, medical services and contact with the Australian public. Nauru is 3000 kilometres from the Australian mainland, while Manus Island lies 300 kilometres north of the main island of Papua New Guinea.
Conditions on Nauru
There were 410 asylum seekers and up to 500 people recognised as refugees on Nauru on 31 August 2016.
Offshore detention is designed to be so brutal that asylum seekers are forced into despair and agree to go back home to whatever they have fled.
On Nauru, according to Dr Robert Adler, a paediatric psychiatrist who worked there providing medical services, “Families were living under a marquee, separated from one another with plastic sheets, with no easily accessible toilet or kitchen facilities, no privacy and no air-conditioning in 40 degree heat”.
Since late 2014 there have been a series of bashings, robberies and rapes on asylum seekers and refugees, as locals blame them for “taking jobs” and bringing high-handed Australian expats to their island.
The change to an “open centre” arrangement, where the detention centre gates are open, has changed little. There is no other accommodation outside the centres for people to move to. There is not enough transport to take more than a fraction of the asylum seekers out of the camp at any one time. And many are too afraid to leave the camps because of the threat of bashings and rape.
See more photos of life on Nauru at The Guardian website here from May 2015
Nauru’s war on refugee women
Lateline has recorded 20 rapes or sexual assaults of refugee women on Nauru in the last year.
Nazanin, an Iranian asylum seeker raped in May 2015, was only brought to Australia in August. Recommendations from doctors in Australia and Nauru that Nazanin’s brother and mother be brought to Australia to aid her recovery have been ignored by the Immigration Department.
The case of Abyan, the raped Somali refugee, exposed the lies and brutal mistreatment of refugees by the Minister for Immigration, Peter Dutton and the Immigration Department. Dutton lied when he said Abyan had changed her mind and no longer wanted a termination. The Guardian reported that he ignored three separate IHMS recommendations to transfer Abyan, the first on 16 September, confirming advocates’ version of events.
There are 823 people detained on Manus Island. Amnesty International described the situation on Manus Island as “tantamount to torture”, after visiting the centre in November 2013.
In February 2014 Reza Barati was murdered in the Manus Island detention centre during an attack on asylum seekers by PNG guards. During the attack another man was shot in the hip and others lost eyes. Threats from locals against the asylum seekers continue.
Medical and other services are grossly inadequate. In August 2014 a second asylum seeker, Hamid Kehazaei, died after a simple skin infection developed into septicaemia. Former Manus Island doctor John Vallentine told the ABC’s Four Corners that the centre was “just a disaster, medically”, saying it was just “too remote” to provide proper services there.
Infections and skin diseases are rife among the asylum seekers on Manus Island. In addition to the extreme humidity, broken toilets mean asylum seekers are forced to walk through raw sewerage, often barefoot. About one in six people living on Manus Island contract malaria each year.
Asylum seekers suffer “snakes inside their accommodation, malaria, lack of malaria tablets, no mosquito nets, [and] inedible food that often has cockroaches in it”, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
Read about the stories of Manus refugees in Fairfax’s special “No end in sight” multimedia report here
Close the camps
On 26 April 2016 the PNG Supreme Court held that detention on Manus Island was unlawful and the detention centre would have to close. Further court action in PNG is under way, in an effort to force both PNG and Australia to act on the ruling.
But there is nowhere else for the Manus asylum seekers and refugees to come but Australia. Neither Nauru not Manus Island can provide safety, security or a future for asylum seekers or refugees. The government’s efforts to find other countries to agree to resettle them has so far failed.
PNG is a poor country that is unable to accommodate refugees permanently. And it is now clear that asylum seekers’ lives are in danger if they stay there.
The attempt to send refugees to Cambodia has also proven farcical. Just five have been “resettled” there, at a cost of $55 million. Only one is still in Cambodia, with the others regretting the decision to go to Cambodia and returning home in despair. Cambodia is one of the world’s least developed countries and has no infrastructure for resettlement. It is also guilty of refoulement: in 2009, it deported two Uighur refugees seeking asylum back to China, the country they fled. The Philippines has also refused to accept refugees from Manus or Nauru. The latest country floated as a destination is Kyrgyzstan.
The asylum seekers and refugees must be brought to Australia, the country the whole world views as responsible for them. The offshore detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru must be closed.
Justice for Reza Barati: Murdered on Manus
On 17 February, local G4S personnel brutally attacked asylum seekers on Manus Island, armed with guns, machetes, pipes and sticks. A fence was pushed down from outside, enabling PNG Police and the PNG ‘mobile squad’ to enter the facility.
This resulted in the murder of Reza Barati, a 23-year-old Faili Kurd from Iran, and injuries to at least 62 other asylum seekers. One man was shot in the hip and others have lost eyes.
This account has been confirmed by several eyewitnesses including Azita Bokan, an Immigration Department interpreter who told the media, “There was blood everywhere. The number injured was horrific: people with massive head injuries, at least one with a slashed throat.”1
This was an act of retribution against asylum seekers after they had been holding protests for a month, demanding that the processing of their claims begin. The day before there had been a major protest where 35 asylum seekers broke out of the detention centre. But on the night of the attacks there was only one small protest hours before the attack by 30-50 asylum seekers in a different compound from where the murder took place. Yet the media still wrongly refers to the event as a “riot”.
Who was to blame?
Although the attacks were carried out by PNG personnel, responsibility ultimately lies with the Australian government. The detention centre is funded and run by Australian authorities. This is blood on Immigration Minister Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott’s hands.
There is also blood on Labor’s hands. The Labor government re-opened Manus Island in November 2012 and Reza Barati was sent there by the Rudd government in August last year.
Hamid died from a simple skin infection that turned into septicaemia on Manus Island in August 2014. Medical documents leaked to the media confirm that negligence and inadequate care caused his death.
The young man was already very ill, and deteriorating, before finally receiving, on August 23, the medical attention he’d requested. For the next two days Kehazaei’s condition “worsened considerably”, according to his medical report.
Medical staff on the island finally recommended to the Immigration Department that he be “urgently transferred” to Port Moresby rather than continue to receive inadequate treatment on Manus. But this didn’t happen, for over 24 hours.
The plan to transfer the patient the previous day “never came to fruition due to delay/visa requirements, so the patient spent another night”’ on Manus Island, The Australian reported.
The newspaper obtained IHMS medical documents that “show that the federal government was aware Kehazaei’s condition could be ‘life threatening’”. By the time Kehazaei arrived in Port Moresby it was too late. He suffered a heart attack, and was transferred Brisbane’s Mater Hospital the next day. His family agreed to turn off his life support when he was confirmed brain dead.
Medical staff failed to use the correct anti-biotics recommended by PNG health guidelines, according to Australian Medical Association federal councillor Richard Kidd. If they had, he would likely have survived.
If the Immigration Department had been both competent and compassionate someone would have ensured that a visa was immediately available on hearing of the transfer recommendation.
It would have ensured that the medical treatment offered on Manus in the first place was of a standard appropriate to the cramped, dangerous conditions that prevail there, to the detriment of detainees’ health, both physical and psychological.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s claim that Kehazaei received “outstanding treatment” was blown out of the water by The Australian’s report. He explicitly denied Hamid had been mistreated, but the IHMS reports clearly show that he was. Once again, Morrison lied to the public.