Contributed from Victoria
The Manus Island detention Centre in Papua New Guinea (PNG) is due to be closed today. Many of the detainees are refusing to leave however.
They feel that transferring them to the local community will put them at risk of being victims of violence. This is because there have already been several incidents, arising out of tensions with a section of the local community, who see the refuges as a threat to their way of life. The population of nearby Lorengau is only 6000 and not ready for a significant influx of 551 refugees and 167 rejected asylum seekers.
A Human Rights Watch report released last Wednesday says “groups of local young men, often intoxicated and sometimes armed with sticks, rocks, knives, or screwdrivers, have frequently assaulted and robbed refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island.”
Echoing the concern about violence, PNG Police Commissioner Gari Baki, in a statement, said, “The safety of both the refugees and government workers plus staff of leading agencies is not to be taken for granted given the tension that is now being expressed by the locals on Manus Island”.
Lawyers acting for the refugees are planning to file an injunction in the PNG Supreme Court, in order to stop the detention centre’s closure, “not because we want the centre to stay open,” said Melbourne-based barrister Greg Barns, “but because there is an absence of alternatives for these men”.
Those remaining have found that they have had the power cut off and no longer receive adequate supplies of food and other necessities, as the government pressures them to choose between settling at Hillside House on Manus Island, being deported to Cambodia or being transferred into Nauru, where the conditions are even worse.
Australian government policy continues to be that harsh treatment is necessary to create a disincentive for more boat people to arrive.
This approach has long been criticised for its failure to come to terms with the reality that refugees are the product of conflict, often in places where Australia has had military involvement, and not economic opportunists, as seems to the underlying assumption.
Since the Howard era, Australian governments have frequently been accused of manufacturing the refugee crisis for domestic political purposes, to create fear in sections of the Australian community and divert attention from other matters.