22 Jan 2013

The Long Journey To Manus

By Wendy Bacon
Asylum seekers have welcomed the court action to have the Manus Island centre declared unconstitutional. Detainees told NM contributing editor Wendy Bacon about being forcibly removed to PNG
Asylum seekers sent to Manus Island two weeks ago are continuing to refuse food and are self-harming in a desperate protest against their selection for forced transfer from mainland Australia to PNG. They have said they will not stop until they are told how and when their refugee applications will be processed.

One 19-year-old man attempted to hang himself over the weekend. This is the same man who was quoted by New Matilda last week as saying, "Here is end of my life. I had lots of dreams but now all hope is gone. I am suffering from this".

Two other men, one of whom had attempted to hang himself, according to detainees, have been transferred back to Darwin suffering from health conditions unable to be treated on the island. DIAC insists there was no attempted suicide, and that the asylum seeker had hit his head.

One asylum seeker told New Matilda that they had been told they could not speak to the men or offer them cigarettes.

Whereas the other asylum seekers are allowed to access the internet for one hour a day, the new arrivals have been denied access to the internet. 

The Manus Island asylum seekers have welcomed the court action by the Opposition Leader in PNG, Belden Namah, to have the centre declared unlawful under the PNG constitution and court orders releasing detainees or at least halting transfers.

In a media release, Namah said that his main objection would be that the centre is illegal under Section 42 of the constitution which lays down the limits under which people can be deprived of their liberty in PNG.

He will "challenge the right of the Government to force people seeking refugee status in Australia to enter Papua New Guinea to be illegally and indefinitely detained under inhumane conditions" and the "manipulation of PNG migration law by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Immigration in illegally allowing asylum seekers destined for Australia to come under the jurisdiction of PNG refugee laws and exempting them from immigration status".

Yesterday, the asylum seekers wrote to Namah telling him that they were concerned that after they arrived "physically and psychologically exhausted" at Christmas Island in an "atmosphere of intimidation and fear", they were asked to sign documents that they did not understand. They are seeking translated copies of these documents which they say were signed "under great duress".

Their allegations of being taken to Manus Island against their will are similar to those they made on 23 December when they wrote a letter to media organisations and refugee advocates explaining the circumstances in which they were transferred to PNG.

This letter was written after the first group of those transferred to Manus Island gave up an initial decision to refuse food after being told that "in Australia people are free to protest and speak out and voice discontent about decisions and policies that they feel are unfair and unjust".

In the hope that processing of individual claims would begin, they wrote, "We have decided to use our intellect and our humanity to appeal to all people who care for justice and fairness to hear our stories and support our cause. We have given up voluntary starvation as a sign of our respect for the democratic processes of Australia, and we put ourselves in the hands of these processes".

In the letter, they describe being forcibly removed to Manus Island.

One woman wrote: "At 6.30 in morning they came to take us to a 'meeting'. I didn't have time to brush my hair or change my sleeping clothes. We were taken to a room where there were a large number of Serco officers. They were big, muscular men who looked intimidating, carrying sticks and spray. They were different to the officers we had come to know while at Christmas Island. They told us nothing, but did body checks and then put us on a bus."

The asylum seekers were then taken to another area where they were separated into ethnic groups and told by a man with a "big smile on his face" that they would be transferred to PNG.

The asylum seekers say they knew nothing about PNG and they were "not allowed to ask questions".

Another asylum seeker wrote: "This was such bad news for us. We were told Serco [the company that manages the centres] would pack all our things and they would be sent with us to PNG. We waited a long time. Later, after about two hours someone came and spoke to us individually in family groups. Several guards were with us. We were told because we were healthy and had no family in Australia we were being sent to another country. We were not allowed to see any of our friends to say goodbye. I was asked if I had any fears about going to PNG, I replied I was very scared about this."

The same woman said she was "searched again, even under my tongue, my hair, behind my ears, our belongings were packed. We never returned to our room ... Our property was not treated with respect. Clean things were thrown in with dirty things. Some items, important to us, were lost, and never arrived in PNG".

After waiting for many hours, they were put on another bus and taken to the airport, "feeling like criminals".

They were accompanied by guards and federal police on the trip. "Even if we went to adjust our belts to make them more comfortable we were told not to. The temperature was very cold. No blankets were provided for the trip and when we asked for one we were told they were not allowed to give it to us. We were on the plane for many hours, and received only one small sandwich and water. When we used the toilet on the plane we were accompanied by a guard and the toilet door was not allowed to be fully shut. This was humiliating for us and again made us feel like dangerous criminals, who were guilty of some serious crime."

"When the plane finally landed at PNG we were marched out of the plane one by one by the officers. No information was given to us on the whole trip. We became even more scared during this trip and wondered where we were being taken to."

They concluded: "This experience was more traumatic for us than the boat trip we undertook to reach Australia. Then, our life was in the hands of nature. But here in Australia, where we expected just treatment, our lives were in the hands of people who made a choice to treat us in this cruel and demeaning way."

Meanwhile, the detainees who have still not been allowed to leave the compound since they arrived last year, complain that they have still not received a reply to their letter to DIAC sent on 7 January. In the letter, they complained about lack of doors on sleeping huts and the impact of restrictions on their children who have "become more violent, are under severe mental pressure because they think they are prisoners. They blame us for bringing them here and this is affecting our relationships with them. The children complain about the food being provided and tell us constantly they are unable to eat it because of the heat and it is not hygienic. As parents we are so concerned and worried about the future and welfare of our children".

In the letter they also complain that as directed by DIAC they had discussed their problems with International Health and Medical Services (IHMS), the company who are contracted to provide health services for detainees. They explain that IHMS told them "that they can't do much about our health problems because they tell us that they have inadequate facilities and services available here. This includes dentistry, optometrist, women's medical issues, kidney stones, asthma, reflux of stomach, thyroid, allergies, pimples, rashes and skin conditions, or any unusual, out of the ordinary condition ... You also have brought us and our children to a place of high risk for malaria, the worst in the world. We have also suffered from side effects from the injections and malarial treatment we have received. Again this is something that those on the Australian mainland do not have to experience."

There is a doctor, several nurses, a mental health worker but no dentist available for the asylum seekers.

New Matilda asked DIAC if they had responded to the detainees' letter. A spokeperson said, "DIAC communicates regularly with the transferees at the Manus Island RPC (Regional Processing Centre)."

Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition said that "The asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru want to know why isn't there one law for all asylum seekers who have arrived after 13 August."

"The vast majority of asylum seekers who arrived after 13 August will live in the Australian community while their claims are processed — conditions that are vastly different from those on Manus Island and Nauru."

"The minister [Chris Bowen] seems determined to discriminate against a small number of asylum seekers by sending them to hell-holes of Manus Island and Nauru."

New Matilda attempted to contact IHMS, who did not reply by deadline.

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Posted Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - 16:19

One hopes that PNG Opposition leader Belden Namah's action is successful and that the Federal Labor Government is shown up for the criminal, child-abusing, mother-abusing, refugee-abusing mob they are.

Decent Australians must stand up - like the anti-racist Jews opposed to the Palestinian Genocide, the Gaza Concentration Camp, and the West Bank Bantustans of US- and Australia-backed Apartheid Israel (see Jews Against Racist Zionism": https://sites.google.com/site/jewsagainstracistzionism/ ) - and declare "Never again to anyone" and "Not in my name!"

Here are the medical realities:

Australia is removing these refugees from Australia (Life expectancy at birth m/f (years): 80/84 ; Probability of dying under five (per 1 000 live births): 5; Probability of dying between 15 and 60 years m/f (per 1 000 population): 79/45; Total expenditure on health per capita (Intl $, 2010): 3,441),

and forcibly and indefinitely incarcerating them without charge or trial in Papua-New Guinea
(Life expectancy at birth m/f (years): 62/65; Probability of dying under five (per 1 000 live births): 58; Probability of dying between 15 and 60 years m/f (per 1 000 population): 274/221; Total expenditure on health per capita (Intl $, 2010): 88) (Source: WHO: http://www.who.int/countries/en/ ) .

The neoliberal, pro-war, pro-Zionist, anti-Asian, anti-Arab anti-Semitic, intrinsically anti-Jewish anti-Semitic, Islamophobic and grossly human rights abusing Federal Labor Government (see "Australian Labor’s new anti-Semitism. Oz Labor threatens anti-racist Jews", MWC News, 15 March 2012: http://mwcnews.net/focus/politics/17530-new-anti-semitism.html ) is not merely sentencing desperate refugees (including mothers and children) to indefinite imprisonment without charge and trial in a tropical hell-hole, they are, in effect, also sentencing many of them to DEATH.

Former PM Kevin Rudd (deposed by a Foreign Mining Company- and US-backed pro-Zionist-led coup in June 2010) stated that those trying to find safe haven for refugees are "scum of the earth who should rot in hell". How then do we describe the racist Zionist and US Alliance war criminals who created over 20 million Muslim refugees in the first place (the breakdown being 7 million Palestinians, 5-6 million Iraqis, 3-4 million Afghans, 2 million Somalis, 1 million Libyans, 1 million Myanmar Rohingyas, 0.5 million Syrians and 2 million Pashtun refugees generated in NW Pakistan; Google "Muslim Holocaust Muslim Genocide": https://sites.google.com/site/muslimholocaustmuslimgenocide/ ) ?

Of course the Federal Labor Government will ensure that, unlike desperate refugees, the so-called "people smugglers" will be actually charged, tried, sentenced and imprisoned in Australia and provided with the very best , First World medical treatment.

Decent Australians will vote 1 Green and put Labor last until it reverts to decent Labor values (the Coalition are just as bad but, unlike Labor evidently don't know any better and have not betrayed decent Labor voters and decent Labor values).

Peace is the only way but Silence kills and Silence is complicity.

Posted Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - 16:58

One has to wonder what all the Jews in Australia who have survived the Pogrom in Europe, and their descendants, are thinking as they watch the latest batch of refugees fleeting terror in Europe and Asia and the Middle East, being treated in Australia in much the same ways as they were treated, in this case, by the Australian Government.
Perhaps we have not quite got to the gas ovens yet, but from appearances, they, or something similar, can not be far away, as Gillard and her rotten Government run out of options to 'dispose' of thousands of unwanted humans, in their efforts to please a mob of rotten un-human voters. It would also seem that there are enough inhumane bastards in Australia who would look on and cheer.
Like, already, there have been hundreds, maybe thousands, of humans, refugees 'lost at sea' while Indonesia and Australia look on. Remember Siev X?
Yes, I know, this will bring out the squeals, but I am right, am I not? Gillard and that horrible Evans, and those before them, have already broken every ethical rule in the book, written or unwritten. With the 'Mad Monk' cheering them on, do they know of any limits to their infamy? I doubt it.

Posted Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - 09:28

It is refreshing (whilst obviously very shocking) to be able to read the experiences directly from the assylum seekers themselves. Thank you for doing so Wendy.

In my view, too often do we hear from 'refugee activists' (usually the spokespeople for the RAC or RILC) speaking on behalf of refugees and assylum seekers. Whilst these people (and the organisations) are doing a fantastic job in challenging circumstances, surely it would be better to have a refugee as a spokesperson, to better connect with the Australian public (after all, it is public opinion that needs to be turned).

Posted Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - 13:11

Correction to entry above. I wrote of Chris Evans, and although I see no redeeming feature in him either, it was actually Chris Bowen, he of the thin lips and nasty little smile, as Immigration Minister, that I was referring to.
There is no doubt about it, those that have placed Gillard in power, and are working to keep her there, seem to have sold their souls to Gillard and the Devil.
Every single decision of Gillard and her Ministers these days is sure to be hurting somebody, somewhere, so long as the people being hurt are the weakest in society. Maybe they get pleasure out of the pain of others. There is a name for these people. Ghouls.
We really do need another Centre Left Political Party to start up, and quickly, to give a vote to those people who could never vote for the Tories, could never again vote for Labor, and just can not quite give their votes to the Greens (because they are swayed by opinion coming from the FarRight Commentators and the Murdoch press).
I just can not see how Labor can ever recover from the treatment that the citizens have received from them, and recover whatever it was that led people to believe that Labor was a Progressive Party, if not actually very Left Wing.
Labor now has a smell about it that would indicate that it is rotten to the core, putrescent, except for the lone voice of a remaining member, a Senator, who retains a conscience, and also does not like where Labor has gone and is going. I refer to Senator Doug Cameron, who can be heard as a voice in the wilderness, decrying the path of his once-progressive Party.
Thank you, Doug Cameron, but I do wish that you had more support from your fellow Laborites.
My immediate thought as I heard La Gillardine delisting Senator Crossin from the NT Labor, was that this was revenge, female type, for her support of one KRudd. What a vicious, cruel, vengeful creature 'our' PM is.
And what reflection of her is Australia today.
And I really do hope the challenge in the PNG Supreme Court succeeds, and hands a thorough lashing to 'our' PM.

words of wisdom
Posted Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - 14:35

The border arrivals clause in the refugee convention, under which onshore refugees claim asylum, was designed in the '50s in the context of WWII. It was intended, quite rightfully, to prevent another situation arising similar to where Jews and other persecuted peoples were turned away at the border of 'friendly' nations and wound up in concentration camps. In short, it was to ensure people had immediate access to protection from imminent danger.

It was not designed to allow people to asylum-shop the way most Australian boat arrivals do, where they travel halfway around the world and through/past many countries where they would nominally be 'safe' from imminent danger in order to make their 'border arrival' on the doorstep of a wealthy western nation who is thereby forced to accept them.

The loophole allows wealthier refugees (relatively speaking) to exploit the process to acquire quota places that would have otherwise been allocated to people in even more dire circumstances.

Now, I view that as an unfortunate and unavoidable part of the system that exists for the greater good. By no means to I advocate changing or repealing that clause of the convention, nor do I blame the individual asylum seekers for trying to obtain the best outcome for themselves. But in that context of exploitation it is hard to claim in that the system is particularly equitable to refugee applicants.

Posted Thursday, January 24, 2013 - 20:09

words of wisdom, you have repeated the same comment in two threads. I think the Rules state that this is not allowable. Certainly, I have been corrected about it once before. Can't just cut and paste, mate.

K Brown
Posted Saturday, January 26, 2013 - 02:18

The asylum seekers assertion that they were taken to Manus against their will is a moot question when every one of them wilfully embarked on Indonesian fishing boats for Christmas Island after the Government had announced its new offshore processing regime and issued clear warnings that they may be detained on Manus or Nauru for an indeterminate time while their refugee applications were processed under the new “no advantage” principle.

Posted Monday, February 9, 2015 - 23:56

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Posted Tuesday, August 25, 2015 - 03:40

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