Media gets rare glimpse inside Manus asylum seeker centre
The asylum seeker facility on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island has been opened up for media for the first time; one of a small group of journalists to get inside offers a glimpse at conditions there.
The asylum seeker facility on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island has been opened up for media for the first time since it reopened in 2012.
A small group of journalists were on Friday given a rare tour of the facility which houses around 1300 asylum seekers who have been transferred to Manus by Australia.
The media personnel were accompanying a PNG judge and court-appointed party which has also visited the facility this week as part of an inquiry into whether asylum seekers' basic human rights are being met.
One of the five journalists allowed in was Todagia Kelola.
TODAGIA KELOLA:When I entered the gate it really felt like a detention centre, it felt sort of like a prison camp because there's guards outside, there's police presence outside, a PNG police presence outside, inside there are tough, big security guards manning the premises and they were our escorts to go inside. Now when we went in, they have been given four compounds altogether. They are mostly people from the Middle East and Africa, from Somalia, some are from Iran, Afghanistan and Iraqis. The accommodation they are living in is all PNG defence force sheds where they converted them into accommodation. There is no aircon in the foxtrot compound. When we went into [a] compound, it contained around 400 people and the accommodation there, there is aircon inside the accommodation, there is a recreational room, but basically there was seven people who came and testified within this week and they complained that the centre is so crowded and all that and I saw it for myself, yes it is very crowded but on the complaints that the area is not being ventilated properly I think it is just an exaggeration because there are air conditioners inside, being provided, and they have .... facilities, air-conditioned, also the food there is much much better than the ordinary Papua New Guinean does take.
JOHNNY BLADES: And the sanitary conditions, they are okay?
TK:The sanitary conditions, I would say, are okay.
JB:Did you get a chance to talk to some of the asylum seekers and ask them how they feel and their situation in terms of how long it is taking for their claims to be processed?
TK: On that, before we departed for the centre, there was an order given by the judge. Basically, It was the groundrules for us to go in and and one of the groundrules was for us not to interview any of the asylum seekers or the people who work in there. We were allowed to just take pictures but television cameras were not allowed only still cameras were allowed inside the facility.
JB: And you got the feeling it was a bit like a prison?
TK: It definitely feels like a prison but as I told you they have been put in compounds and the compounds are separated from eachother. So we were moving from one compound to the other. Transferees were just standing outside. The transferees, when they saw the judge they started calling him and complaining 'look we have been here for months, when are our things going to be processed, how long will we be here in Manus?' and all that. Now during court, when some transferees' testified, they all complained that it was taking the government of PNG and Australian immigration too long for them to process their status so that they can either remain in the country or can choose a country to go to.
JB: And what about the people in there, the asylum seekers, do they get to go out at all? Do they get much time in the fresh air and do they get to see the outside community whatsoever?
TK: No, they are just locked up in there. This question was raised in court on Wednesday when one of the transferees was cross-examined and the public solicitor was acting on behalf of them. Cross-examining and asking if they were given any excursions ... the person stated, the defence told the court, that they have never been taken out of the centre, once they were flown over from Christmas Island in Australia to Manus Island, they take them to the centre and they are locked in. As I told you there is a compound containing maybe 400, another compound 200, another compound 100. The total number of transferees is approximately 1359 transferees.
Todagia Kelola reporting.
Meanwhile, the visit to the Manus facility also coincided with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott's first visit to PNG where he sought commitment from Peter O'Neill that PNG will expedite the resettlement of asylum seekers found to be genuine refugees.
Mr O'Neill says PNG will resettle some of the refugees, but has ruled out taking on all of them.
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