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Dutton's human rights abuses on Manus: There for the world to see

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Refugees dig for water on Manus Island (image via @TaghiniaAmir).

Dutton's logic may hold sway with Immigration, the courts and the military in PNG, where Australia's $500 million in aid is on the line, but he can't alter the facts of the abuse of refugees on Manus Island. Jane Salmon reports.

AS IT STANDS, Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton and PNG authorities insist that the remaining 600 men on Manus Island are to be lured to new facilities in Lorengau from the now-closed regional processing centre (RPC) at Lombrum.

Back at the Lombrum RPC, there is no power and no easy access to clean drinking water or food. The wells dug by the men are likely to be contaminated by insecticides, petrol, human habitation and leaky drains.

Medical service provider IHMS has agreed with Dutton to only treat the men in Lorengau.

There is no sanitation. The engineers among the men have heaps of initiative but they cannot change the fact that nothing flushes without power and there is only enough cold water to wash when it rains. Dysentery is an imminent risk.

Antimalarial medication has run out and fogging has stopped. Squadrons of Manus sized mozzies keep the men awake at night. Essential medications for anxiety and trauma have run out. People are losing it. 

There is a blockade on incoming food, medication, fresh water and resources.

Many have to ablute in the sea — where they also fish.

Worst of all, the PNG police and military see these tired men fighting for their freedom as trespassers on navy property. Supply boats from Lorengau are turned back or impounded. Eviction may come with unnecessary violence. The 2014 death of Reza Berati and the 100 gunshots on Good Friday this year, do not augur well. 

Why not just move?

The men want freedom and to move to safe countries. Nothing changes the fact that Australia’s heavy-handed mismanagement has dumped strangers in a severely underprivileged town and they are not wanted.

A number of refugees have been forced out to Lorengau over the years. They suffer the lack of work, grotty accommodation and lousy medical facilities. Their food rations are brutally meagre. We know of the suicides and “accidents”. 

Then there is community tension and theft borne of inequity. A trip to the shops can still cost a refugee an arm or leg injury by machete. Medical evacuations to the Australian mainland for microsurgery are off the table. 

Dutton’s assertion that the new locations are ready for the men has been contradicted by even the Daily Telegraph.

The Australian contractors have mostly gone. PNG has hired its own security and contractors. Fences are unfinished and drains remain undug. 

Fundraising proceeds and a small cache of food exists but it is rationed and most men miss meals and are hungry. 

Activists help with phone credit, solar batteries and other necessities.

Clearly, Dutton has sway in PNG, an ex-colony. Australia can threaten the $500 million per annum in aid. Dutton's logic is echoed in PNG Immigration, the courts and the military on Manus Island.

He can create media blacklists.

But he can’t alter the facts.

Four years of gaol on a hostile island is too long. The men have become so habituated to their RPC cyclone wire cage that even the removal of generators has not deterred their resolve. The refugees have seen that there is strength in unity. Solidarity has lured some hungry men to walk back to the RPC from Lorengau 20 miles away.

Disorder in the courts

Every base is loaded. PNG Immigration Minister Thomas uses the very same words as Dutton. They clearly have a hotline.

The PNG Supreme Court judgement, yesterday, rejected the application to restore services to Manus. An appeal is being lodged by lawyer for the refugees, Ben Lomai

International shame

Australia is losing face globally. Tourism and the trade economy may yet be impacted. Any embargo from the EU, Canada or Japan would certainly hurt.

Activism in Australia

Activists are now working more efficiently. They take their lead from the Manus refugees. Debates about strategy have been replaced by continuous action on all fronts.

There are political implications. 

For the activists, demonstrations can lead to gaol and the cost of legal fees will impact on their ability to help the refugees.

The Labor Party could well be marginalised in the middle of this issue. They fail to realise how polarising it has become. 

Labor has to watch out as McKim grows in stature.

We also have the PHON rise. Deepest darkest politics is not always palatable at the ballot box.

The young Labor Left have piped up, breaking ranks with the centrists. 

The bulldust

The lies and spin have taken their toll on Dutton and Turnbull’s credibility. Malcolm Turnbull parrots Dutton’s fact-free attacks.They seem to be digging their own political graves as Tony Abbott did with his transparent fibs.

New Zealand's newly minted Labour Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern caved in on taking the refugees after PM Malcolm Turnbull declined her offer. There are trade and APEC implications.

Fundamentally, the boats haven’t stopped. 

There are as many Nauru and Manus people now onshore as offshore. Lawyers are sometimes able to get them brought here on medical grounds or released into the community, case by case. Dutton doesn’t want us to know that.

Visa overstayers who arrived by air have not been sent to penal islands. But there are 150 children on Nauru plus newborns. Whether they are “free” is a moot point when their cage has barely widened to eight square miles of rock. The spin won’t hold.

The onshore detention centres are also crammed with genuine refugees who have been stuck there too long. Temporary visas come with massive uncertainty.

Some media, Senator McKim and personnel in the human rights sector sporadically act as human shields on the ground in Manus, but for how long? 

The men are tired.

Dutton has tightened his media blockade — media is selected or deselected.

It is difficult to foresee the outcome of upcoming legal action against Australia's the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. 

Canberra has publicly trampled PNG sovereignty. The role of Australia as a corrupt colonial force using aid to have its way in the region is scary.That’s not going to be tolerated by voters for long.

Then there is all that could have been done to improve our standing in the Pacific. Ten billion unaudited Aussie dollars which have been used to gaol asylum seekers might have created a state of the art hospital or exemplary universities and schools.

Above all, we have the Dutton assaults on democracy and what that means for Australia in future.

These institutional human rights abuses, if tolerated, will be extended onshore.It is only a matter of time before they come to all sorts of agencies near you.

The refugees may leave the RPC peacefully today — or not. Their strong stand has caught the world’s attention and they have shown how committed and resourceful they are.

They have dug wells, fixed generators, endured illness and filth and gone without basic necessities. Their soul and solidarity are the most powerful tools they have.

Every base is loaded against them. 

We salute them.

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