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Anthea Falkenberg 31/12/2017
I am attempting here to draw a picture of how the situation on Manus has changed over time and what it is now…
how that affects the lives of those still there.
The very same points all apply to Nauru, and the men, women, children and BABIES held hostage there.
The FIRST point to be made, that may not be obvious to those with knowledge of refugee camps elsewhere, is that this is NOT a refugee camp.
It is a prison.
They did not go to Papua New Guinea (or Nauru) voluntarily, they were taken there against their will.
They were kept locked up in the Detention Centre on the Manus Island Naval Base for almost 3 years, before being allowed out under very restricted and controlled conditions, in order for the Australian government to make a legal pretence that they were free.
They were still unable to leave the island, work or be sponsored to any other country, and they now became subject to attacks from unhappy local people (mid 2016).
In the year that followed, there were deaths and injuries due to the mental health problems caused by long term detention, and also the fact that the men have no defence against the violence from locals. They have little support from police when they are robbed or injured.
Terrible injuries gave been inflicted in them, with no charges being pressed against the perpetrators.
On 31 October 2017, the Australian government announced it had closed the naval base. There was nowhere prepared on the island for all the men to move. They would still be trapped on the island and in PNG.
Conditions have not changed, in the essential truth that they are still prisoners there.
Life is more dangerous, because local people are openly angry about what Australia has done and is doing on their island. They are holding rallies and protesting. In essence, the Australians who support the men, also support this local protest. Australia has caused much damage in the local community too, by using it to run a detention centre deliberately out of sight of Australians. The lies, secrecy, payouts, legal obfuscation, corruption and collusion in doing this for years have changed and poisoned the local community, economy and culture.
The men refused to leave the Naval Base.
Australia ordered water cut off, power cut off and food blocked from entering. They created a seige. With the help of locals and Australians, and their own collective effort, the men made wells and brought in limited supplies. A sense of great community was evident and the men peacefully protested to the world about their situation, every day.
Over these weeks there were a number of occasions when officials directed local officers to go in and destroy basic necessities, such as water tanks, food supplies belonging to the men, power generators, including those belonging to locals or the men in camp.
420 men stayed there in protest until the 23rd and 24th November, when they were moved by force, by PNG police and immigration officials, on the known instruction of Australian Border Force. Almost all men moved on those days were injured due to the deliberate force involved. Almost all men had their small amount of belongings destroyed or damaged. Video and photos are attached of the force used.
After this removal by force “from a prison to another prison”, which is what the men refused to participate in, they have been housed in three locations: West Haus, East Lorengau Transit Centre and Hillside.
Conditions are different at each of these locations and can be detailed in the comments below. But none of them has conditions of freedom or safety, or supplies basic human rights.
And that is the issue, that and the fact that they are all, in truth, prisoners to Australia’s political games. Political prisoners.
The men are mentally tired and depressed, after years of trying to fight their way – legally and by communication – out of the intricate web that Australia has woven around them.
Most paths out have been blocked to them, and only the “US Deal” has recently been allowed to go ahead. That has got 24 to the USA. There are another 70 said to be going at the end of January. As for the remaining approximately 700 men, now scattered in multiple PNG locations, under varying conditions, but none comfortable or respectful, they still do not know what will happen. But every one of them is mentally and physically exhausted by this existence in human rights limbo.
In a nutshell, the men were not guilty of any offence, and were transported to PNG against their will. The PNG Supreme Court found their detention to be illegal, in April 2016.
Australia continues, 20 months on, to control and prevent them leaving except under 2 conditions of Australia’s making:
1. Return to your home country
2. Participate and be accepted if you are “lucky”, in the “US Deal”.
The physical conditions are really only material to this, in the way they are used to try to force the men to return to danger “voluntarily”; to wear them down so that they give up their claim for asylum. I will document how that is administered in practice, later on, too.
They are political prisoners, illegally detained in a country that cannot resettle them safely, after being transported there against their will.
They are not in refugee camps. They are imprisoned.
There is a new legal case for their compensation for each additional day of imprisonment, still accruing. It should be noted, Australia has already agreed in the PNG court to PAY THESE COSTS. On the day it went to court!
Costs have not yet been agreed upon.
BUT it is apparent this has been done to keep it quiet in the Australian media. Most Australians have no notion that Australia has in fact tacitly admitted guilt by not contesting any of the compensation cases for these political prisoners. – Anthea Falkenberg 31/12/2017