3 Nov 2017

‘We are begging you and pleading you to help us’

12:42 pm on 3 November 2017

The “forgotten” refugees.


Walid Zazai.

Walid Zazai. Photo: Supplied

Refugees on Manus Island are begging Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to allow them to come to New Zealand.

Over the past four years, Australia has detained hundreds of refugees on the remote island that is part of Papua New Guinea.

They are asylum seekers who had tried to reach Australia illegally by boat from around the world.

The centre, which has been the subject of complaints about its conditions, was officially closed by the Australian government on Tuesday after the PNG Government ruled it was illegal to detain asylum seekers.

The refugees have had their power switched off and have lost access to running water and working toilets. Their food is dwindling.

Australia wants them to move to the island's main town, Lorengau, but the refugees are afraid of further attacks by locals against the relocation. About 600 are refusing to leave.

Elaine Pearson, the Australia director for Human Rights Watch, told The Washington Post it’s “cruelly ironic” the men have barricaded themselves inside a centre where they have been shot at and attacked in the past.

Over the past few days, many have pleaded for New Zealand to grant them asylum.

“We on Manus Island we have lost hope and the only hope we now have is the New Zealand government. The honourable prime minister of New Zealand, we are begging you and pleading you to help us. We need your help,” one refugee told RNZ.

The refugees dug a well in the centre of the island and welcomed a sudden downpour yesterday by collecting rain water.

A Manus Island refugee digging a well.

A Manus Island refugee digging a well. Photo: Supplied

Kurdish journalist and refugee Behrouz Boochani said the men's health is already deteriorating and medication is unavailable.

He said some have infections and with no fumigation, mosquitos carrying malaria and other tropical diseases have become a threat.

He said the men have been “forgotten”.

The United Nations has said it is not yet ready to offer accommodation.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will meet with her Australian counterpart, Malcolm Turnbull, in Sydney. The situation on Manus Island will be discussed.

Ardern made it clear this week New Zealand's offer to take 150 of the refugees still stands - an offer that has been repeatedly rejected by Australia since 2013.

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said a compassionate solution needed to be found quickly: “I really hope Australia does take up our offer. We're here to help … we are talking about real people here, people who are suffering.”

Iranian refugee Amir Taghinia told RNZ he does not understand why the men can’t go to New Zealand.

“Australia has no right to do this. These people were already found to be genuine refugees. Papua New Guinea does not want them and these people are happy with going to New Zealand and never setting foot in Australia,” he said.

“So if the New Zealand prime minister is going to Australia I would ask Jacinda Ardern, please I would like to beg her, do something for these guys - push the Australian government help these people to get out of Manus Island.”

Canberra has also rejected a resettlement offer made by Wellington as the refugees would be able to enter Australia if they became New Zealand citizens.

Lawyers are applying to the PNG Supreme Court to request vital services are restored to the centre.

The October 31 closing date for the centre has been known since last April.

Radio New Zealand International reporter Johnny Blades told The Wireless both the PNG and Australian governments likely expected resettlement options to have arisen earlier.

“Few of the refugees, or those deemed non-refugees, have been keen to return to their countries of origin despite financial inducements from Australia,” he said.

“On Australia’s side of things, there’s been an ‘out of mind, out of sight’ element.”

He said Canberra has publicly said the problem is PNG’s, but realistically, Australia has the final say on everything.

“It seems unlikely that Australia will change its bottom line about the men being permanently excluded from settling there. Some of them may still be able to resettle in the US as part of the refugee swap deal Turnbull forged with Barack Obama,” he said.

“Some are likely to be transferred to the other offshore processing centre on Nauru. Some may decide to finally give life in PNG a crack. The bulk of the refugees are against this and may look to hold out in their protest as a way to apply pressure on the international community to find some resettlement option.”