By Matilde Bechet
The governments of Australia and Papua New Guinea are under fire as the remaining refugees from areas of the Middle East and Southeast Asia endure shortages of food, water, electricity, and medical assistance in the Manus Island.
For years, the Australian government has ordered hundreds of asylum seekers to a detention camp located in Manus Island, a province of Papua New Guinea. This process came with the intent to counteract arrivals of migrants by boat, and thus “discourage dangerous ocean crossings and human smuggling,” as stated by The New York Times. However, since the closure of the detention camp on Tuesday, October 31st, uncertainty between both countries escalated over who should claim responsibility for the resettlement of the migrants.
The number of detainees in the camp is around 600. These migrants are all men from areas of the Middle East and Southeast Asia. According to The New York Times, “most of them have sought status as refugees or asylum seekers,” and a few are awaiting relocation to the United States.
CNN went on to report that Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court statement in April had liberated the men from the camp. However, many chose to remain in the site as a method of protest. After the termination of the detention camp on October 31st, men were given the option to settle in Lorengau. Nevertheless, many feared for their safety as some detainees had suffered from attacks by local residents. According CNN, citizens of Lorengau have felt “suspicion and fear” from these refugees and have “sign[ed] a petition calling for the refugees and asylum seekers to be relocated in Australia.”
After the camp’s closing, former detainees have been suffering from a lack of water, food, electricity, and medication. Diabetic men have not been able to acquire medical assistance for the purpose of accessing insulin and as a result, have become sick. The United Nations has recently reported that Papua New Guinea was in the course of “unfolding [a] humanitarian emergency.” According to The New York Times, Behrouz Boochani, a camp detainee and journalist from Iran, revealed, “Men were experiencing dehydration, hunger, anxiety, and the fear of attack and disease.” Moreover, Boochani claimed the Australian government is responsible for such pain as it continues to deny these men a home.
Australia has promised to grant $193 million for the relocation and protection of the detainees in Lorengau. Still, Nat Jit Lam, a representative for the United Nations’ refugee agency, has professed her concerns with the environment of relocation, claiming, that “the temporary housing was incomplete and unsafe.” Australia continues to maintain its initial stands on the relocation of the migrants with options for settlement in either Papua New Guinea, Cambodia, or Nauru. Recently, “none of the men still on Manus have accepted the offer,” according to The New York Times.
Other nations have offered assistance to these refugees, some including New Zealand, who is willing to open its doors to 150 of the men. However, Australia’s prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, stated Australia “would not take the offer at this time,” as it is still in the process of making arrangements with the U.S. to welcome refugees.
The Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea has claimed that its government is not obligated to provide any goods to the remaining migrants. Subsequently, Prime Minister Turnbull suggested that migrants relocate to Lorengau, where the facilities are of greater accommodation.
On November 22nd, Papua New Guinea troops entered the camp in hopes of ending protest by the men. According to The New York Times, the authorities placed “dozens of asylum seekers” under arrest, going to extreme lengths as to destroying their belongings. At 7 a.m., “security forces stormed the camp” and “began tearing through the men’s shelters and makeshift water tanks, before announcing on a loudspeaker that had to leave” for another camp near Lorengau. In this moment, Papua New Guinea and Australia disregarded the men’s liberties; the authorities were prohibiting the use of their cellphones to record and/or take pictures of the “episode” of dismay. Behrouz Boochanie was arrested for “reporting” the scene; he was let go a few hours later, having been “pushed several times” and left with broken “belongings.”
As asylum seekers choose to remain in the closed camp, many endure hardships while attempting to protect their human rights. However, Mr. Boochanie remains firm: “Let us go to a third country. We don’t want to go to Australia.”