Refugees on Manus Island are cut off
Authorities block basic services to a number of detention compounds
Refugees in some compounds inside the Manus Island immigration detention centre have had the power, water, toilets and phones cut off while they are still living in the camp.
As 57 vigils – demanding “evacuate now” – were held across Australia last Wednesday night to mark four years since the introduction of a regional resettlement policy for boat-borne asylum seekers, the situation at the Manus Island centre is chaotic.
Compounds within the centre are being progressively shut down, even while people are still living in them. The withdrawal of basic services – including electricity, water and phone lines – is being used to force people out of the centre, which the Papua New Guinea and Australian governments want closed by 31 October.
Peter Dutton, the Australian immigration minister, confirmed last Wednesday that the centre would close by the end of October.
“I’ve been very clear about that and that is what we’re going to achieve,” Dutton told the Nine Network, adding the timing relies on the United States accepting asylum seekers after 30 September. However, the deal has foundered after the US hit its 50,000 cap for refugee resettlement this year causing officials to abruptly leave their on-island screening interviews with detainees on Nauru two weeks early.
Authorities want refugees to move to the Australian-built transit centre near the township of Lorengau, but the majority of refugees are refusing to go, saying they are not safe.
A notice posted inside the detention centre last Tuesday said that because refugees have moved themselves to Bravo and Charlie compounds within the centre and refused entreaties to leave, “the power has now been turned off to Bravo and Charlie compounds. This means the phones located in Bravo has [sic] been affected. BRS [operators Broadspectrum] will undertake electrical work to reinstate the phones after all residents have moved out of Bravo compound. Power will remain off in Charlie compound.”
Staff inside the centre say about 20 refugees are inside the compounds and refusing to leave. The Guardian contacted PNG’s immigration authority for comment, but did not received a response.
Last Wednesday marked four years since the announcement by the Rudd government that no asylum seeker who arrived in Australia by boat would ever be settled in Australia.
Kevin Rudd, now president of the Asia Society Policy Institute, said the agreement he signed with PNG – which included provisions for housing, health and education – was only for 12 months. After that asylum seekers could have been resettled in New Zealand or Australia.
“The bottom line is these poor folk should have been resettled in either New Zealand or Australia or elsewhere three years ago,” Rudd told the ABC. “The cases could have been easily assessed within a 12-month period, the fact that it has gone on so long is plainly unacceptable.”
But when he signed the deal with PNG and later Nauru, Rudd said: “No matter where people-smugglers try to land asylum seekers by boat in Australia, they will not be settled in Australia. This is our core principle.”
Asked about his statements at the time, Rudd said: “There was a requirement by us … to send a clear message to people-smugglers that we were changing policy.”
Marking four years since Rudd’s regional resettlement arrangement, the Refugee Council of Australia chief executive Paul Power has told the prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, in a letter he had “made his point” on stopping boats, but that the offshore islands of Manus and Nauru needed to be immediately closed.
The Manus and Nauru processing centres were reopened in 2012 under the government of Julia Gillard, but 13 July marked the date of the policy shift – under Rudd – prohibiting any asylum seeker who arrived by boat from ever resettling in Australia.
Despite revelations of violence – including murder – sexual abuse of women and children, allegations of torture by guards, medical neglect leading to death and catastrophic rates of mental health damage, both of Australia’s offshore processing centres remain operational.
Nauru will continue as an “open centre” indefinitely, but the Manus centre will close under pressure from the PNG government and private contractors running the centre, who have refused to continue working there.