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Refugees on Manus Island offered chance to move to Nauru

Posted On: Wednesday, 11 October 2017

LORENGAU, 11 OCTOBER 2017 (THE GUARDIAN) --- Refugees held by Australia on Manus Island have been offered the chance to move to Australia’s other offshore detention island of Nauru. The detention centre on Manus has become increasingly tense, chaotic and unstable in recent weeks, as the Papua New Guinea and Australian governments scramble to close it down by the self-imposed deadline of 31 October. Hundreds of refugees are refusing to leave the centre ? ruled illegal by PNG’s highest court more than a year ago ? saying they are not safe in Manus’s main town of Lorengau, where the governments are trying to move them. Two refugees have killed themselves on Manus in the past two months and there have been a significant number of violent incidents between Manusians and refugees in Lorengau.

The Australian government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars building new housing in and around Lorengau and removed and diminished medical, food and other services in the detention centre, even banning cigarettes, in an attempt to get people to leave. But few refugees have been willing to move. On Tuesday night, authorities in the Manus detention centre posted a notice inviting refugees who were in the process of applying to be resettled in the US to volunteer to move to Nauru. Refugees who want to move must apply by 23 October.

“The government of Nauru will then decide which refugees can transfer,” it said. “Refugees transferring to Nauru will have access to the same services and resettlement arrangements as other refugees in Nauru.

“Transfers will not affect eligibility or progress of US resettlement applications.”

The Iranian refugee and journalist Behrouz Boochani said there was widespread mistrust of the government’s offer. 

“It’s the latest political trick to get the refugees out of the Manus detention centre, because the refugees have not left the detention centre despite the government’s efforts to push them out in the past few months,” he said.

“The refugees are saying they don’t want to go to Nauru and they don’t trust in this government. It’s completely unacceptable that after more than four years the Australian government still refuses to solve the problem by taking the refugees to a safe place and instead is trying to send them to another hell.”

Boochani said more than 700 men on Manus had been formally recognised as refugees and were legally owed protection.

“They should be allowed to start a new life in a safe place,” he said. “They deserve to have this basic right.”

Another refugee, Amir Taghinia, said that, after six deaths within the Manus detention regime, refugees feared for their lives and had repeatedly told the Australian government they would be attacked if they moved to Lorengau.

“We explained over and over again that we would rather stay in the Manus prison without hope than face violence in Lorengau,” he said. “The Australian government is running out of time and have no plan, so they have come up with this relocation.

“Already too many lives have been lost, and the government knows that people are in danger in these camps, whether on Manus Island or Nauru.”

The detention advocacy manager with the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Natasha Blucher, said the Australian government needed to realise it could not have more violence and further deaths in its detention regime.

“Dragging these men from one dangerous camp to another is not a solution,” she said.

Over four years of the second iteration of “offshore processing”, the Australian-run camps on Nauru and Manus have been the subject of consistent revelations of physical 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, self-harm and suicide attempts.

The total cost of offshore detention, since being re-instituted by the Gillard Labor government, is nearly $10bn (US$7.8 billion). The Australian government also agreed to pay $70m (US$54.6 million) in compensation and damages to men held on Manus for their illegal detention in dangerous and damaging conditions.

The refugees held on Manus ? most of whom have been there more than four years ? have held more than 70 days of consecutive protests against their confinement on the island. Fifty refugees from the Australian-run detention centres of Nauru and Manus have been resettled in the US under the agreement announced last year. Several hundred more are undergoing the process of “extreme vetting” implemented by the US president, Donald Trump, who is a reluctant collaborator in the deal. The US has said it would consider resettling up to 1,250 refugees but is under no obligation to take any more than it has already as part of its drastically reduced refugee intake, which has been halved for the forthcoming year....PACNEWS



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