Manus Island Crisis

Horrifying though it has been, something darker still is being acted out on Manus Island. The ABC’s Pacific Beat reports that despite the fact that in April, PNG’s Supreme Court, ruled the Regional Processing Centre was unconstitutional and ordered its closure, the PNG Government now says it will close Australia’s offshore detention centre on Manus Island but keep the asylum seeker facility in Lorangau open. This is, indeed confirmed by this alarming message from Kurdish-Iranian journalist Behrouz Boochani. He writes on 4 October, 2016:

‘Today a lot of security officers, case managers, immigration staff and PNG police have tried to separate people (refugees) from each other in Manus prison. Their plan is to separate people with negative status from people with positive status. The refugees have had some serious arguments with them but they say that you must move and don’t have any choice…Anybody that resists is put in Manus jail, the small jail in Lorengau town that is meant for local people. The atmosphere of Manus prison is full of stress and pressure. The system is completely illegal, the prison is illegal, separating people is illegal and their processing is illegal.’

The ABC’s Pacific Beat program reports that the Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato, who is in Canberra to discuss the future of Manus, now says there are two facilities on the island, and that the court order applied only to the Lombrum naval base facility, not the centre at Lorengau. Mr Pato says: “The court order related to, and arose from, circumstances which were concerned with the naval base on Lombrum, which is where all asylum seekers are held for the purpose of refugee status determination… Following the determination, after all the reviews and everything else is completed, there is another centre which is called the East Lorengau Transit Centre which is not affected by the court order because there, that transit centre houses refugees who have been determined to be genuine refugees…and who would be resettled in PNG or elsewhere.” Of the nearly 900 people in the detention centre on Manus Island, about half have been found to be refugees.

Where to now? Having intensely followed the past three and a half years of Manus Island imprisonment of asylum seekers, I have observed a process by which the men are being driven mad. Some are already broken. Others are reaching their limit. Each day, with no viable resolution in sight, compounds the trauma. And now this — separating men who have spent three and a half years incarcerated together. It is cruel and brutal. Such a situation, with men driven to their limits of endurance, is also volatile and dangerous. It will be more so if it is kept out of sight and out of mind.

The future and fate of the asylum seekers and refugees on Manus Island appears more confused and uncertain than ever. The governments of Australia and Papua New Guinea must make clear their intentions concerning both groups of men. Are there to be forced removals of those who have been found not to be refugees? Since PNG has repeatedly said that the country cannot accommodate all who have been found to be refugees, and that almost all the refugees have expressed their strong objection to being settled in PNG, what is to be the fate of this group?

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