A humanitarian crisis is unfolding on Manus Island, as over 600 refugees have today been abandoned by Australian officials in a hostile environment, without food, water or power. Refugee advocate Sarah Smith reports.
IT'S HALLOWEEN. And for the first time in my life, it seems like October 31st is the most frightening day of the year.
My friends in the Manus Regional Processing Centre (RPC) are low on food — most have run out and some weren't issued "food packs" – meant to last for two days – to begin with.
They have drained rainwater from the roofs into bins. This was meant to be so they could wash themselves, but with water quickly running out in the 31ºC heat, it seems they'll need to use this to stay alive.
Power has been cut to half the centre, so the men with phones are using them sparingly. There is only one power base station on Manus Island, so if this power source is severed, contact with the refugees will be lost.
This has happened before but with a strong media presence on Manus Island, it, fortunately, seems an unlikely strategy now.
The Daily Telegraph reported today that the Manus residents have 'armed themselves with knives, rocks, and makeshift furniture' (who knows what the latter means).
This is an outrageous lie. All 600+ men agreed at a meeting two days ago that, even if attacked, they would not use violence to defend themselves. Also, knives have never been allowed into the RPC, but this seems like a secondary untruth in the latest blatant attempt to turn the Australian public against these innocent men.
Drinking water was removed for a day from the RPC over a month ago and, because of that, nearly 60 men are suffering from persistent vomiting and diarrhoea. Soap hasn't been available for over a week, so it seems that illness will inevitably spread.
The facilities to which the men are meant to be transferred aren't ready to be inhabited. A local whose sister has the cleaning contract has told me only "a few rooms" at the Hillside Haus facility are ready.
Guards at the site had rocks thrown at them by locals overnight. While there is some sympathy for the refugees, in a province already lacking the infrastructure to support its existing inhabitants, Manus residents refuse to accept their presence outside the RPC.
Some mainstream media outlets in Australia are reporting Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton's claim that 160 to 200 men have been found to "not be refugees" when, in actual fact, these men haven't even been assessed.
The Australian Government hasn't paid the local contractors, so they're stripping the RPC of anything that has material value. Copper wiring is a primary target. In a province that doesn't even have an adequate educational facility, this seems like a heartbreaking waste.
As I write, my friends in the detention centre are starting to panic. The Australian guards, paid $14,000 per month to protect the refugees, have fled the RPC for the relative safety of the Lorengau township. These men are mostly ex-military but the presence of the PNG Mobile Police Unit (MPU) – notorious for their use of violence with impunity – seems to have spooked even them.
The MPU is now cruising around in new cars purchased for them by Australia, their crowd-control whips hanging from the outside rear-view mirrors in a blatant attempt at intimidation. For a unit that was charged just last month with beating a man to death in public, this seems almost understated.
The men have all been issued with a month's supply of medication, including sedatives and sleeping tablets — this happened a week after the last suicide attempt by overdose.
It is my worst fear that these men, deprived of agency for over four years now, utterly devoid of hope, running out of water and food and waiting to be attacked, will use the last of their means to take control over their own autonomy.
The Manus Island locals don't want men to settle there.
The Papua New Guinean Government refuses to act.
The refugees refuse to be settled in a country that can't even provide for its existing residents.
The situation on Manus Island is a humanitarian crisis, entirely manufactured by the Australian Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton.
Don't blame the locals.
Don't blame the refugees.
Put the blame where it solely belongs: on Peter Dutton's shoulders.
Sarah Smith is a refugee advocate for asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License
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