Australian Government Leaves Refugees To Suffer On Manus Island

On the 31st of October, Australia’s detention facility on Manus Island was closed down on order by the Papua New Guinean high court. The facility was closed in spite of 600 refugees remaining inside, left to survive in inhuman conditions with no access to power and water. To address the Centre’s closure, the Australian government has declared that it has given the refugees options to relocate, either a temporary settlement in Lorengau town or transfer to the Nauru Detention Centre. Locals in Lorengau are known to vehemently oppose the presence of refugees in their village, and due to the limited capacity of Nauru Detention Centre, housing will only be provided for a small percentage of the refugees in need. If neither of these options proves viable, the Australian government has alternatively suggested that the refugees return to their country of origin, despite the danger they face from their home governments from the likelihood of persecution. As a result, the 600 men have refused to leave the facility on Manus island, preferring to face starvation than the futile options left to them.

On the 30th of October, Acting Prime Minister Julie Bishop has stated that in spite of the closure of the Manus island camp, “asylum-seekers moved from the detention center will be provided with accommodation, food, water and medical services.” However, this statement holds little credibility as refugees are widely known to be detained in appalling conditions, affirming that even if refugees are transferred to alternative facilities, basic human needs are unlikely to be met. To further reinforce Australia’s neglectful refugee policy, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has adamantly stated that Australia will not provide settlement for any of the surviving refugees protesting on Manus island.

Humanitarian organizations such as Refugee action collective have angrily responded, posting regularly on their Facebook pages to raise awareness of the disastrous conditions refugees on Manus Island currently face. Refugee Action Collective has also organized protests in Sydney, Melbourne and Newcastle to garner support from the Australian public to rally against the government’s neglectful treatment of asylum seekers.

The detention facility on Manus island was established in 2001 by the Australian government to prevent refugees from freely entering the country. In 2008 the facility was temporarily shut due to disuse, but eventually reopened again in 2012 due to the rapid increase in refugees attempting to seek asylum in Australia. Since the Manus island refugee camp reopened, the facility has faced severe criticism by human rights activists and the UN for the neglectful and abusive conditions the refugees are subjected to in the camps. The Papua New Guinean high court responded by ruling the detention of refugees on Manus Island illegal, and in breach of fundamental human rights. It was a matter of time since this ruling that the detention facility would be closed, as the inhuman conditions arranged and approved by the Australian government to accommodate refugees could not be sustained.

The tragic futures the 600 remaining detainees on Manus Island face is exemplified by their preference to accept appalling conditions and protest the Centre’s closure, rather than take up the options left to them by the Australian government. Furthermore, Australian government’s refusal to grant these refugee’s asylum and put an end to their ongoing suffering, reinforces the countries callous refugee policy. The Australian public must stand in solidarity with humanitarian organizations by interacting on social media and attending protests, to make clear that they are extremely dissatisfied with the government’s neglectful asylum seeker policy, and that it must be changed.

Hannah Barter-Konecny