A small group, committed to improving the lives of refugees and asylum seekers, spent a lunch time writing letters to local Members of Parliament and Senators on Tuesday 5 December at the Cardinal Knox Centre in East Melbourne.
The letters call on Members of Parliament to bring those sent to Nauru and Manus Island to safety in
Australia in a timely and humane fashion where they can have their
claims processed in safety and with dignity. The letters also call for a speed up the process for resettlement in the USA and for the Australian Government to accept the New Zealand offer to take 150 of these refugees.
Please consider writing a letter to your local member of parliament - a workshop such as this one can be organised with a minimum of effort.
Here is a summary of the situation to date:
In a three week stand-off about 600 asylum seekers and refugees initially refused to leave the former ‘Regional Processing Centre’ on Manus Island after it was officially closed by the Australian Government, arguing they were unsafe in the local community. About 300 men left the centre after enduring squalid conditions and pressure from authorities. Electricity, food and water was cut at the centre when it closed.
On November 24th the Papua New Guinea authorities forcibly and violently removed the remaining 300 refugees and asylum-seekers. Authorities reportedly destroyed or confiscated personal items, including medicine and phones. Iranian journalist Behrouz Boochani was arrested and held by authorities for several hours. In the unfinished alternative premises at Lorengau medical care remains inadequate (Médecins Sans Frontières was granted – then denied – permission to access the men), and caseworkers, interpreters, and torture and trauma counselling are completely unavailable.
Papua New Guinea authorities lack the means and infrastructure to provide such services without further resources. Even recognized refugees are still being offered enticements to “voluntarily return” to their home countries. This includes countries where human rights conditions have significantly deteriorated in the past 12 months. Severely inadequate services and conditions may now further coerce refugees with a well-founded fear of persecution to nevertheless return to their countries of origin. The ongoing presence of the men on the island, where most people still live fairly traditional lives, is causing an increasing amount of conflict and social problems.
In November 2016, Australia announced a resettlement deal with the United States of America whereby some of the refugees in Nauru and Manus Island could be eligible for resettlement in the USA. As of 30 April 2017, 1,745 people on Nauru and Manus Island have been recognised as refugees. It is unclear how many refugees the USA will take from offshore processing centres, but fifty-four refugees arrived in the US in September. The United States embassy in Papua New Guinea says it expects other refugees from Manus Island will be resettled in the coming months (up to a total of 1250), but processing has been very slow.
The Australian Government has not announced an appropriate resettlement plan for those who will not qualify for resettlement in the USA but have been found to be a refugee. Similarly, the future of those who have found not to be a refugee but are unable to return home (due to statelessness or inability to source travel documents) remains uncertain. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has said refugees who aren’t taken under the US resettlement deal will settle in PNG, while non-refugees will be sent back to their home country. UNHCR has released a statement calling for immediate action to avert further harm to the refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island.
In early November New Zealand's new Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, renewed her predecessor John Key's offer to resettle 150 asylum seekers currently in Australia's offshore detention centres. This offer was narrowly defeated in the House of Representatives on Monday 4 December 2017.
Offshore, mandatory and indefinite detention are wrong. The principle of deterrence, by which people who have already tried to come to Australia to seek protection are treated harshly in order to stop others doing the same, cannot be justified morally.
For comprehensive updates on the grave situation on Manus Island go to the Andrew and Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law at the UNSW. Or sign up for their mailing list for a weekly round-up of national and international refugee news.