Refugees on Manus Is­land are cut off

Author­i­ties block ba­sic ser­vices to a num­ber of de­ten­tion com­pounds

The Guardian Weekly - - International News - Ben Do­herty

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.

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