WITH Papua New Guinean police sweeping through the defunct refugee detention centre on Manus Island on Thursday, Federal Fremantle Labor MP Josh Wilson has joined a former detainee in urging immigration minister Peter Dutton to rethink Australia’s response to the crisis.
The centre was officially closed in October after PNG’s Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional to detain asylum seekers, but several hundred men have remained behind, claiming they’re too scared to move to alternative facilities about 20 kilometres away.
Iranian journalist and writer Behrouz Boochani Tweeted from a toilet inside the centre as events unfolded on Thursday, saying he and the roughly 400 people remaining were “under attack”.
“The police, special forces, police squad are now in their hundreds, spreading through the prison camp and around the prison,” Mr Boochani posted.
“They are destroying everything. Shelters, tanks, beds and all of our belongings…The refugees still are silent are watching them so scared.
“Two refugees need urgent medical treatment. One of them has epilepsy. Too much tension here.”
It was later reported he’d been arrested.
Former detainee Mehdi, who now lives in Perth, has been keeping abreast of events through his contact with Mr Boochani – the pair had been prominent social media activists in Iran before coming to the attention of authorities and fleeing.
“They are going down every day; they have been tortured for the last four years and this month has been the most brutal,” Mehdi says of the Manus Island detainees.
Mr Boochani is stuck in a legal limbo; he was accepted as a refugee by PNG but won’t accept the determination because he’d never sought asylum there. So he’s been shunted from centre to centre for four years.
Mehdi says he fully understands the detainee’s desperation; during his 18 months behind bars, it wasn’t the conditions that crushed his spirit as much as the sense he wasn’t being treated equally.
“It’s like living in limbo. Why this suffering? Why this gaol which has no end?”
He says their fears are genuine.
“There are 60 to 70 people in the new centre, but there is conflict with the locals. It’s understandable from their point of view, too, this is a big change for their society and that naturally leads to resistance.”
Mr Wilson says while the Australian government is responsible for the welfare of the detainees, he’s concerned the seriousness of the issue is being overlooked by the nation’s media.
“After years in which no progress has occurred in resettling people found to have valid asylum claims; years of effectively indefinite detention in unacceptable and harmful conditions, it seems there is now the prospect of resettlement in the United States and New Zealand,” Mr Wilson wrote to Mr Dutton on November 16.
“Yet there is no apparent urgency in your effort to see this occur, nor steps to ensure that people who have suffered trauma and persecution are spared further physical and mental harm.
“Instead we have seen renewed neglect, hardship, and conflict.”
Mr Dutton says it’s time for the men to move, criticising them for “trashing” the centre.
“Some of them believe that if there is violence with police and the footage is broadcast back here that will twist our arm and change the policy position, but under no circumstances will these people be coming to Australia.
“The Australians taxpayers have paid about $10 million for a new facility and we want people to move.”
by STEVE GRANT