Refugee Crisis in Manus: Be Informed

To all our Friends and Community,

In recent days you might have seen the news of the Asylum Seeker detention centre closing in Manus. We believe this is a great injustice not only to the 606 vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers but to Papua New Guinea (PNG) as a whole. Hence, we have sent word out to our friends and community to stand with us in raising awareness for this issue and giving voice to these voiceless men who are being kept in Manus.

As most of you would know, The Voice Inc (TVI) is an organisation committed to building leaders for the future and as such we recognize the need to identify how such bilateral arrangements affect not only our internal communities but the external face of PNG. At this point most of the human rights world sees PNG as a country that has not treated refugees well. The international community see that under PNG’s watch, some refugees died in Manus, some have suffered beatings by authorities and are being deprived of basic things including food and water. We need to take a stand not only for the refugees but for PNG who is being placed in an impossible position by our closest neighbour and friend Australia. 

As Papua New Guineans we believe in taking care of those in need and these displaced refugees are desperately in need. They have been fleeing danger in their home countries and are now abandoned in our country. They have nowhere to go.

For now we hope to shed light on the situation of these men in Manus, give them a Voice in PNG and try and keep them and the Manus people safe. 

The History of the Issue

In 2012 the Government of PNG and Australia signed a Memorandum of Understanding relating to the Transfer to and Assessment of Persons in Papua New Guinea, and Related Issues (MOU 2012). This MOU was signed by the participants on 8 September 2012 and authorized the Australian Government to transfer asylum seekers to PNG for processing before being resettled back in Australia or a third country.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has a list of countries that are known to have the capacity to resettle refugees, Australia is on that list.  PNG is not on that list because PNG lacks the legal, economic, social and cultural environment considered conducive for refugees to integrate. Hence, it was justified that asylum seekers are only processed in PNG then sent back to Australia or a third resettlement country. However, in 2013, due to pressure from Australia, both governments revised the MOU 2012 to authorise Australia to also resettle refugees in PNG. This new MOU (MOU 2013) was signed without deliberation in Parliament. It was an NEC decision which did not include consultation with the people as to whether PNG should be a resettlement country or not.

From these two MOUs there were close to 2000 men transferred to PNG and detained in the Lombrum Naval Base in Manus. Some were sent to Nauru because the facilities in Manus were not up to the minimum human rights standards of a refugee receptive country. Almost 900 men were still in detention when the Supreme Court of PNG held that their detention was unconstitutional and illegal as they were not responsible for their own unlawful entry into PNG because they were forcefully transferred to PNG by Australia. From the Supreme Court Decision the PNG Prime Minister announced that Manus facility would close and he asked Australia to make alternative arrangements for the asylum seekers. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Australia would not accept the detainees and the Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton described the refugees and asylum seekers as PNG’s responsibility. 

See the following video of Minister Dutton attempting to avoid Australia’s moral obligation:

New Zealand offered to take 150 refugees, however the Australian government refused this offer. A few have been sent to the United States to be resettled there but the remaining almost 800 asylum seekers were left with no viable place to go.

What happened on 31st October 2017 

The Australian government set 31st October 2017 as the date to close down the detention centre in Lombrum and relocate the refugees to another part of Manus (East Lorengau). This was done without proper consultation with the government of PNG and in particular the local Manus population. This lack of consultation led to confusion amongst the local population and threats made to the refugees that they would be beaten if they moved to the new sites. Of the almost 800 men left in PNG the 606 remaining in the Lombrum base are afraid to go out into the community and will not leave the centre. The centre has also now reverted to being a military base so if they do not move out, the military may take out trespass proceedings or potentially move them out by force. 

As of 31st October, the Australian Government stopped providing security, power, water and food supply to the refugees in Lombrum centre. The rights of these men under our Constitution and under international law have not been protected. They are currently being subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by the authorities. They are foreign men who have no source of income or social connection to PNG which might provide them access to food or water. They are asylum seekers and refugees who are owed protection under international law, they have been forced into Manus and left by both the Australian and PNG Governments with no ability to live a decent life.

We invite you to join us in taking some simple actions:

In the interim,

  1. Talk to people about what is going on, share some facts about the situation on Manus.
  2.  Get in touch with TVI KomUNITY or your own contacts who are from Manus to help rally support for the men within the Lorengau community. Maybe we can work with our friends on Manus to help provide food and water to the men in the detention centre.

In the longer term,

  1. Raise our voice as Papua New Guineans to tell Australia to fulfil their legal obligation under international law and take the men back to Australia.
  2. Speak up so Australia will never force their problems on to PNG like the Manus situation again.

It is important that we understand that PNG is not only left to deal with the displaced refugees brought here from Australia but also with our own displaced populations due to climate change, natural disasters and other displacement caused by social issues that have been existing. There needs to be a discussion around all those displaced populations in PNG while discussing the Manus situation and trying to come to a solution.