Human rights organizations are appalled that the federal government is finally severing all ties with refugees from its former detention center on Manus Island, with more than 100 men trying to reach Australia back in limbo in Papua New Guinea.
Eight years after the ‘PNG solution’, the infamous offshore detention program that appalled humanitarian groups and then the deaths of at least seven asylum seekers or refugees is an official end.
Behrouz Boochani, the Iranian journalist and activist imprisoned on Manus Island, said it should be remembered as Australia’s “national shame”.
“It is a failure. This means that Australia has not been able to solve this problem they created, ”he said of the federal government, which annulled the regional resettlement scheme with PNG.
“The Australian Government should be held accountable for this failure, they should respond to how they have not been able to transfer the refugees.”
Australia ‘closes’ PNG solution
Homeland Security Minister Karen Andrews announced this week that Australia’s resettlement agreement with PNG will not be renewed. Australia’s detention center on Manus Island was closed in 2019, but the government has still expanded medical, financial and social support for former PNG prisoners.
“It’s time for us to close our support for PNG and for PNG to take control of these operations,” Andrews said this week.
Nearly all the thousands of men detained on Manus Island have since left the country – some transferred to Australia, others to third countries such as the United States or Canada or returning to their home countries. But up to 140 are still left in PNG.
Some decided to settle permanently in the country. Many others have been rejected for transfer to Australia or are still awaiting the outcome of applications to third countries.
Andrews said PNG would take responsibility for the remaining men, including medical and social support. But Mr Boochani, who has resettled in New Zealand, was angry that Australia was breaking ties.
“They are sending this problem to PNG. “The refugees did not come to PNG, they tried to come to Australia, and Australia is responsible,” he said The New Daily.
“Australia can not get away with this. They have been torturing people for years and now they say they are not responsible anymore? That is unacceptable. ”
Boochani said “none” among the refugees in PNG are happy with the event and called for more resettlement opportunities to be offered.
“You can not establish a life in the country, PNG is not able to support the refugees,” he said.
Pleas in law on resettlement agreements
Amnesty International called this week’s move “a step in the right direction”, but begged the federal government to resettle the remaining men in third countries. Amnesty has fought for Australia to accept a firm offer from New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to receive 150 refugees a year from offshore detention centers on Manus and Nauru.
“Now is the time to seal the deal. This disorder must finally end, ”said Amnesty Doctor Graham Thom.
David Burke, legal director of the Human Rights Law Center, blew up the federal government for not doing more.
“This is the government trying to wash its hands of more than 100 people who remain in PNG,” he said. TND.
“This is not a moment of hope. It’s not a plan to resettle them or support them … it’s just the government trying to free itself from the problem it created and refusing to respond appropriately. ”
Mrs Andrews said people at Manus had the option of moving to the second Australian detention facility on Nauru or applying for “around 250 seats” left in Australia’s resettlement agreement with the US.
But Ian Rintoul, of the Refugee Action Coalition, said the men had already waited years to get a seat in this resettlement. He said it was unclear exactly what support the remaining refugees would receive from the PNG government.
“Does PNG offer to support them indefinitely? Do you want to continue providing medical care? That’s why we have so many people in Australia for medical reasons, ”he said TND.
“Some have families, the details do not really describe what the future holds. It’s gloomy. Even with the increased compensation that PNG offers them, it is not enough to live on. There are questions about education, family reunification. One of the guys told me ‘we have been hostages, we are still hostages’. ”
“Too many things are still unknown.”
Script a ‘dark chapter’
Humanitarian groups generally welcomed the end of Australia’s offshore detention program in PNG, but said it would be a stain on Australia’s history.
At least seven people died, several of them by suicide; countless were seriously injured through illness, injury, or self-harm; and the original center was the very site of ugly and violent demonstrations in 2017, in which prisoners were forcibly removed.
“What it is known for is the murder of Reza Barati, the deaths of other people taken there, the stories of torture,” Rintoul said. He felt that Australians should look back on Manus Island with “complete horror”.
“It is terrible. People have died, been scarred for life, lost physical and mental health. It has been a totally unsuccessful undertaking. ”
Burke shared similar thoughts.
“This is an incredibly dark chapter in our history that we will look back on with shame,” he said.
“People have died, been robbed of years of their lives. Children have been driven to self-harm. It is an unimaginable cruelty inflicted on people. ”
Paul Power, executive director of the Refugee Council of Australia, said Australia should do everything in its power to ensure that refugees back in PNG were resettled in the United States, Canada or New Zealand. He said the script was an “international disgrace” to Australia.
“No one would then have been pessimistic enough to imagine that refugees sent to detention on Manus Island would still be stuck in limbo more than eight years later,” he said.
‘A national shame’
Boochani was detained at Manus from 2013 to 2019. He was the most prominent voice among a group of refugees, drawing attention to unclear conditions inside the jail, including unbearable heat, physical and mental abuse, lack of medical care and malnutrition.
Sir. Boochani, though mainstream and social media, revealed alarming levels of self-harm and psychological distress at the center, including refugees committing suicide or setting themselves on fire.
He has since been accepted for resettlement in New Zealand, where he pursues academic, written and creative endeavors. After his acclaimed novel No friend, but the mountains, he works on a stage play and co-curates a journal. He said it was hard for him to think about his time in prison, but said Australians should not forget Manus Island and called it a “national shame”.
“People think this policy only harms refugees, but it also hurts Australia in many ways. The billions of dollars spent, how can we say that this policy does not affect Australia? ” he said.
“Of course, it’s hard that people I’ve known for years are still there. It makes me really tired when I talk about Manus and Nauru, but we should talk about it. ”