Manus: Australia cannot wash asylum seeker blood off its hands

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Vigil for Faysal Ishak Amed outside Peter Dutton's office 30 December 2016. (Image via https://www.greenleft.org.au)

The lengths the Turnbull Government will go to to hide the sheer level of barbarity of Manus Island proves Australia recognises its guilt, writes Matthew Abbey.

AFTER THE death of another asylum seeker and the physical assault of two others, it is about time Australia shuts down Manus Island, the barbaric detention centre well past its expiry date. No longer can Peter Dutton, Australia’s immigration minister, shield himself from responsibility. He must be held accountable for every asylum seeker forced into hell in northern Papua New Guinea (PNG).

Faysal Ishak Ahmed was a 27-year-old asylum seeker from Sudan. He came to Australia with the intention of building a life for himself after conflict erupted throughout his homeland. Like most asylum seekers, he probably wanted to lead a normal life and contribute to the Australian economy.

Rather than offering him protection, the Government imprisoned Faysal on Manus Island, culminating in his death.

Through failing to take Faysal’s medical needs into account, his life was cut short. According to other detainees and the Refugee Action Coalition, Faysal sought medical assistance for six months prior to his death but never received the treatment he needed. A few days before Christmas, Faysal had a seizure and was flown to Brisbane, but he didn’t survive. He died because Australia deems it unnecessary to provide adequate medical facilities. Faysal lead a miserable existence on Manus Island and he deserved much more than the death handed to him by Peter Dutton.

A few days later, two Iranian men identified as Mehdi and Mohammed were brutally beaten up by PNG immigration and police officers. Suffering broken bones, bruises and open wounds, the men were imprisoned in the aftermath and denied medical treatment for 36 hours.  According to Iranian journalist and fellow asylum seeker Behrouz Boochani, who visited the men while they were detained, two PNG immigration officers initiated the attack before up to ten police officers joined in.

PNG Vice Minister for Trade, Commerce and Industry Ronny Knight, rather than showing sympathy with the victims, said the men got what they deserved, arguing they were heavily intoxicated and wreaking havoc on the street, despite claims to the contrary by the men themselves and other asylum seekers.

The lack of adequate medical facilities and the use of excessive violence by PNG authorities are never criticised by the Australian Government, rather asylum seekers and refugee advocates often receive the blame.

After the attack on Mehdi and Mohammed, Dutton said on Sydney radio station 2GB:

"I think we're better off to wait for the full facts instead of letting the refugee advocates try to use this to again attack the Government's successful border protection policy."

Apparently, urinating blood is not enough to convince Dutton that his employees in PNG use excessive violence. In a disgusting attempt to demonise refugee advocates, Dutton shifted the blame from the Government, yet again. The men were only released on 400 kina ($170) bail and face charges of resisting arrest and being drunk aid disorderly. Manus Island knows little justice, so it’s likely those involved in the attack will never be held to account.

In April 2016, PNG’s Supreme Court ruled that Australia’s offshore detention centre on Manus Island was illegal. By August, Dutton had announced Manus Island would be closing.

The announcement triggered mixed responses. On the one hand, many praised the closure of the notorious detention centre due to the inhumane treatment of asylum seekers. On the other hand, many feared the closure would leave the fate of the asylum seekers unknown. As Australia continues to decide what to do next, asylum seekers continue to suffer psychological and physical torture while detained under the Government’s watchful eye.

The incidents are not isolated, but rather part of a systemic plan to deter future asylum seekers. In 2014 on Manus Island, Reza Barati was murdered by the guards employed to maintain order and, in 2016, Omid Masoumali set himself on fire in a protest against being detained indefinitely. This is the reality for asylum seekers who arrive in Australia.

Australia unapologetically justifies its harsh immigration policy in the name of border control, but fails to account for the dismal living conditions ever present on Manus Island. Through offshoring asylum seekers to Manus Island, Australia is trying to offshore its responsibilities.

Hiding the sheer level of barbarity of Manus Island, however, proves Australia recognises its guilt. The government knows the trauma inflicted upon asylum seekers in Manus but buries the truth in the sand.

The world is watching, Australia. The truth is seeping out and this barbarity cannot last forever.

Matthew Abbey is a political analyst and freelance journalist with a background in international relations. 

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