PNG, Australia reject claims of food shortage on Manus Island
Papua New Guinea and Australia have rejected accusations that conditions are deteriorating at the Manus Island processing centre for asylum seekers.
The governments of Papua New Guinea and Australia have rejected accusations that conditions are deteriorating at the Manus Island processing centre for asylum seekers.
The centre's residents claim there have been food shortages since the PNG Supreme Court ruled in April that detention at the centre is illegal
Ben Robinson-Drawbridge has been following this story and he joins me now.
BEN ROBINSON-DRAWBRIDGE: There are about nine hundred asylum seekers on Manus Island, all men, sent their by Australia as part of its offshore processing agreement with PNG. Known in Australia as boat-people, they sought refuge in that country from persecution in places like Iran and Afghanistan. Australia pays PNG to operate the centre, as it does the government of Nauru, where another processing centre is located. Now, Since the PNG Supreme Court ruling, the centre was opened to allow the detainees access to Lorengau town, but also to give them free access to any part of the centre. At that time, meals for the detainees in various compounds at the center were combined, which they say forced too many residents into one mess hall at once, causing them to queue for up to an hour to for food, which often runs out before everybody is served. They say the quality of the food has also fallen, two of the centre's residents I spoke to said if they were lucky enough to get a meal it was always chicken and bad smelling chicken at that.
KOROI HAWKINS: But the two governments involved deny this?
BR: The Australian government says there has never been a food shortage at the centre and the PNG government has stressed that the residents receive nutritious and culturally appropriate meals three times a day. An Australian advocacy group the Refugee Action Coalition says it doubts the centre's residents are being supplied adequate nourishment. It says because the PNG government has indicated that the closure of the centre is imminent, the company contracted to provide food at the centre is probably trying to reduce it's costs and extract as much profit as it can before the contract is terminated. That company, Broadspectrum, told me it had nothing to add to the assurances of the Australian government that food shortages at the centre are a myth.
KH: So who's telling the truth, the residents or the governments?
BR: There's no doubt that the residents have been emboldened by the ruling that their detention is illegal. They've been given access to mobile phones and the internet and are now able to complain about their conditions directly to the media. In any case their detention on Manus Island may not continue much longer. The Supreme Court in PNG is now overseeing applications for compensation for the detainees. On Thurday it asked lawyers representing the detainees and the PNG government to come to terms on enforcing it's decision that detention at the centre is illegal. One of the detainees' lawyers, Ben Lomai, who spent the last week on Manus signing up almost all of the detainees to his bid for compensation, says he'll propose a series of consequential orders for the court to enforce. They include the release and re-transfer of all the asylum seekers back to Australia within the next two months. He'll also propose that the court considers the amount of compensation the detainees are due for their deprivation of personal liberty, if lawyers can't agree on a figure. Thirdly, he will suggest that the question of the detainees' inhumane treatment at the centre is proceeded to a trial, which could result in further compensation being awarded them.
KH: Who could be liable to pay that compensation?
BR: At the moment, the respondent in these matters is the PNG government, but Mr Lomai says the court has invited Australia to be joined to the case if it so wishes. If not, the chief justice of the Supreme Court has suggested Australia work with PNG to ensure the case is resolved. The Supreme Court will reconvene on Tuesday.
To embed this content on your own webpage, cut and paste the following: