BY Selina Bell
Do you know what is happening on Manus Island?
You may have noticed the news popping onto your screens over the last few weeks— and for good reason. The current and critical situation on the small island, located in Papua New Guinea, is something which all Australians should be aware of.
For the past five years, the Australian Government has sent hundreds of asylum seekers to the Manus Island Detention Centre to undergo offshore processing, before obtaining their rights to enter Australia.
On October 31st, 2017, the Australian government cut off food, electricity and water supplies to the 711 people still abandoned in the detention centre— including men who had already been imprisoned on the island for five years.
“The Australian Government has had five years to develop a sustainable resolution,” says Phil Glendenning, President of the Refugee Council of Australia.
However, it seems that the previous incarceration of the asylum seekers on Manus Island, progressing to the cease of all supplies in the midst of violent and dangerous conditions, is the only action brought on by the Australian Government.
Amidst such global events and crises, it is important to remember that refugees are simply people fleeing from their countries— not necessarily by choice, but due to uncontrollable and dangerous circumstances such as war, persecution or natural disasters.
These men, largely innocent of any crime, are simply attempting to find refuge in a nation so prosperous, that specialist luxury pajama shops actually exist (Peter Alexander, I’m talking to you).
The Australian Government-run Centre has been— on several occasions— the scene of murder, suicide and self-harm. Conditions have deteriorated further in the past few months, resulting in what the Refugee Council of Australia has described as; “an acute physical and mental health crisis.”
The men have been consistently subject to incidents of violence brought on by PNG forces and at times Australian guards. A major riot in 2014 resulted in over 60 men being seriously injured, and lead to a detainee being beaten to death. It was an incident which Julian Burnside, an Australian human rights lawyer, said to be clearly indicative of the Australian Government’s failure to protect hundreds of innocent people.
Due to countless and constant reported acts of violence, hostility and discrimination towards the detained men for their presence in PNG, from guards, locals and other detention employees, the men have stated that they do not feel safe leaving the confines of the centre.
Since the men’s refusal to move over safety concerns, on November the 23rd 2017, PNG forces stormed the Manus detention centre and forcefully removed many detainees from their rooms and destroyed water tanks, facility structures and broke or possessed multiple personal belongings.
PNG forces have been aggressively insisting that the men move to a new facility, which has yet to be fully developed and is closer to the PNG locals, without security.
The Australian Government’s consistent failure to uphold proper humanitarian care, has been globally considered as a disgrace, and the system has since been denounced by the United Nations.
Glendenning says, “Australia is failing to honour the commitments we have made as a global citizen. We should be providing protection to people found to have a fear of persecution, and should not discriminate as to their means of arrival.”
The Australian Government has already found most of the men’s asylum and security claims legitimate, yet the men remain to be detained. The Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) is calling for a guarantee of peace by all parties to protect the lives of the men and for the Australian government to immediately bring them to safety.
“It is high time that our government begin(s) to make amends for the atrocious treatment of these innocent people, and they should start by bringing them to safety immediately and helping them to start putting their lives back together.”
Despite efforts of the PNG forces to clear the detention centre on the 23rd November, over 300 men still remain.
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As a nation and a collective voice, we can make a difference. Talk to your friends and family about it. Call or email your local member of parliament to voice your concern over the conditions on Manus Island. You can contact Malcolm Turnbull or the Immigration and Border Protection Minister’s office.
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#IAmWatching. Take a photo and send the photo with the subject line #IAmWatching #Manus #SOS to:
We have had the luxury to ignore this, but the men on Manus, and their families, don’t. The lives of innocent refugees are something that we should not be able to ignore, as the Australian Government has been so actively attempting to do.