Report finds Manus refugees living in island detention
A human rights organisation says asylum seekers granted refugee status on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island are still trapped there.
A human rights organisation says those asylum seekers granted refugee status on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island, are still trapped there.
The Australia director of Human Rights Watch, Elaine Pearson, recently visited the transit centre in Manus, where 40 refugees are living.
She told Bridget Tunnicliffe, despite being granted refugee status, the men there still live in limbo.
ELAINE PEARSON: I went there two weeks ago with a colleague from another organization, the Human Rights Law centre, and we interviewed refugees and asylum seekers about the conditions that they're facing. And we're two years in now from when Rudd [then prime-minister Kevin Rudd] re-introduced off-shore processing and quite frankly I mean I think you know the conditions there are really a disaster. You still have about 900 men detained indefinitely in poor conditions in the detention centre and even for those who have been found to be refugees who've been moved into a transit centre, they've been living there in limbo without the ability to leave Manus Island so effectively an island detention and without the ability to work. And so we really think you know two years in long enough, these people should be allowed to move on with their lives and really pick up the pieces, start working and not be held in detention anymore.
BRIDGET TUNNICLIFFE: Were you able to visit the detention centre, or were you just restricted to the transit centre?
EP: We were denied access to the detention centre, although we had requested permission from PNG officials to visit but we were able to visit the transit centre where 40 refugees are living.
BT: What's life like for those refugees, are they able to get out and about?
EP: Well for the refugees in the transit centre, I mean life is still pretty difficult, they are allowed to go out but the centre is about 45 minutes walk from the nearest town, Lorengau village. Many of them are suffering mental health problems linked to the long periods in detention. So a lot of the men are quite understandably scared of the local environment, of locals. Particularly given that they witnessed severe violence in the past so a lot of the men even though they can leave the transit centre, simply spend their days sitting in their rooms, smoking, playing on their mobile phones, talking to friends and family far away. And I really think that it's partly the boredom and the fact that they don't have things to do is the reason why these men are suffering depression and anxiety and other mental health problems.
BT: So what is Papua New Guinea doing to try and resettle these people in other parts of Papua New Guinea?
EP: Well the PNG Government's position is that they don't yet have a resettlement policy, that this is still being drafted and that that needs to be in place before they can move people to other parts of the country.
However there are a number of men that clearly have very good qualifications, there's a doctor, there's an engineer, they you know don't need the Government to sort of get in their way, they are quite willing to sort of set up interviews, you know some of them have even offered to volunteer in the local hospital or the local school but they've been told on all accounts that until the resettlement policy is in place, they can't actually
leave the island and that they're not permitted to work. So we're calling on the PNG Government to immediately allow the refugees to work, especially given that eight of them actually have the documentation, they have a visa that says work is permitted, they just haven't been allowed to exercise those rights.
BT: Are officials giving any indication about when this will be sorted?
EP: No, they aren't really. I mean it was back in March when actually the engineer had booked a ticket to Port Moresby because he had some job interviews lined up and he was told at that point by PNG Immigration that in the next month or so hopefully the resettlement policy would be in place. And clearly now here we are in July and it doesn't seem like that policy has moved forward whatsoever. So I think much more needs to be done, just simply to ensure that those you know particularly those who are really trying to sort of make the best of it, they are trying to move on with their lives in PNG are actually able to do so.
BT: Can these refugees see themselves integrating and making a life for themselves in Papua New Guinea?
EP: Well I think it's different for different individuals. I think some of them are resigned to the fact that they're never going to make it to Australia and they're really trying to make the best of a bad situation. They're trying to sort of contact companies, they want to move on with their lives, they want to get jobs. However for some of the men, particularly those who were traumatised by the riots and the violence that they experienced last year, the night that Iranian Reza Barati, was killed, I think for a lot of those people, they're still very fearful of locals, they think that it's an unsafe environment. Particularly for gay men, they're very concerned that since homosexuality is criminalised in Papua New Guinea, that they may face jail time and I think there does need to be some other options particularly for those who are vulnerable or you know where Papua New Guinea will not be a viable long term option for integration of some refugees.
BT: Does Australia have a role here to play in pressing Papua New Guinea to get on with its resettlement?
EP: Oh absolutely, I mean I think that you know the Australian Government is funding all of these centres. If the Australian Government insisted 'look, you know you need to get out of the way, you need to let these men have the rights that exist on paper, you need to let them work', the PNG Government would allow it. But I think there's been sufficient pressure from the Australian Government to make that happen. And I think this plays in to the whole way in which the Australian policy is really aimed at sort of deterring other migrants to make life on Manus Island seem so unbearable that you know people won't be tempted to get on boats. But I think enough is enough, you know it's two years that these men have had to languish in this limbo and they certainly should be allowed to move on with their lives, they've already paid a heavy price for getting on those boats in the first place.
Elaine Pearson says about another 50 men who have been granted refugee status, have not yet moved to the transit centre because of fears they might not be adequately protected in a facility that's more open.
She says gay asylum seekers have been mistreated by other detainees and some are traumatised by violence in experienced in the past, and are fearful of the locals.
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