Detainee details 'degrading' conditions on Manus

5:40 pm on 30 August 2016

A refugee forcibly transferred by Australia to the offshore processing centre on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea offers a unique insight into what life is like after three years of incarceration.

Manus Island detention centre

A file picture of Manus detention centre taken in 2014. Photo: AFP / REFUGEE ACTION COALITION

The refugee prefers to remain anonymous. He arrived in Australian waters by boat in 2013 seeking asylum, having fled a conflict zone in his homeland.

His account is testament to the basics of life on island, which are missing for those held there.

Things such as access to solitude, a measure of privacy and reasonable medical treatment, are all lacking he says.

"They have kept us, more than 40 refugees, in a single room, which is totally degrading and humiliating. Living in different communities in one room is a very tiresome job to handle."

The man says all of the detainees had been physically and psychologically affected by overcrowded compounds or dormitories.

"The overcrowding creates many problems from the fast spread of skin and respiratory and bacterial illnesses to a feeling of going crazy as we have no privacy, no space for our own mental self-care," he explained.

"It's really a very hard job for detainees to keep themselves healthy and to stay sane."

He says detainees are also served contaminated food.

"The food provided to us is often found to be contaminated with worms. Fruit juice, milk and other dairy products are often found to be expired as well. Sometimes a whole compound of people get very sick from the food." he says.

Staffing at the compound

The role of security staff at Manus is a common source of problems, the detainee says.

Aside from the many claims about rough physical treatment by guards; "on many occasions they use harsh words and make a lots of asylum seekers and refugees mentally sick.

"You can't complain on security because if you do then his friends will take a revenge for his friend."

Wilson Security was contacted for an interview which it declined, but in a statement (which referred to Nauru and not Manus) it says it follows strict incident reporting guidelines.

"Allegations of incidents involving an asylum seeker or service provider staff member are thoroughly investigated according to the guidelines, and referred to the relevant stakeholders for action, or to the PNG authorities where there is potential criminal conduct or whether otherwise appropriate."

The statement went on to say:

"Wilson Security takes the welfare and safety of the asylum seekers at the Regional Processing Centres extremely seriously. We have a clear zero tolerance policy on any form of abuse, and enforce a strict Code of Conduct for all staff. If a staff member is found to have breached the Code of Conduct, we do not hesitate in taking disciplinary action."

Indefinitely in limbo

In April, PNG's Supreme Court ruled that holding people against their will on Manus was illegal, and ordered the closure of the Manus centre where about 900 men have been transferred by Australia since 2013.

Last week, Australia's Immigration Minister Peter Dutton and PNG's Prime Minister Peter O'Neill said both government had agreed to work together to close Manus.

Residents of the Manus Island processing centre queue for food.

Residents of the Manus Island processing centre queue for food. Photo: Behrouz Boochani

The roughly 900 men held on Manus, like those asylum seekers taken to the camps on Nauru, have fled from countries such as Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Myanmar.

Of the two-thirds processed to date, the vast majority were found to be refugees.

However with resettlement in PNG not a viable option, and Australia refusing to resettle any of them, the future remains as uncertain as ever for the men held on Manus.

Protest by refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island.

Protest by refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island. Photo: Supplied

"They avoid us and any of our questions. We are completely uncertain about our future and in a limbo. After almost 3 years we still do not know if we will be freed or kept forever behind these fences," the detainee says in his account.

When the refugees put questions about their future or about resettlement to PNG Immigration, which it's understood is under oversight by Australia's Immigration Department regarding the Manus determinations, they say they receive inconsistent, unclear answers.

"It's as nothing just to torture us. The government is well aware of all this but they still insist to lengthen the duration of our life on this hell."

The official view

Australia's Department of Immigration and Border Protection says it strongly disputes the allegations made by the refugee, saying it has invested heavily in improvements to conditions at the centre.

"A new medical clinic became operational at the Regional Processing Centre last year and is staffed by a range of health professionals, including emergency medical officers, primary care nurses and paramedics," said a department spokesperson.

Hundreds gather for memorial service for Pakistani refugee who drowned.

Hundreds gather at Manus detention centre for memorial service for Pakistani refugee who drowned. Photo: Supplied

"Transferees at Manus RPC receive clinical heath care, broadly consistent with Australian public health standards.

"The Department's contract with the service provider has specific requirements which need to be met in relation to the quality, quantity, cultural appropriateness and variety of food to be provided to transferees."

The detainee's accounts paints a very different picture of life in the detention centre.

"Many of us can't even survive without medication. These medicines have become sort of drugs to many as they are now addicted to them.

"Apart from the medications many of the transferees are also addicted to marijuana and self-made alcohol poison."

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