Robert Manne* for your very perceptive, wise and sensitive opinion piece (The Age, 19/1/16) on asylum seekers and refugees being held on Nauru and Manus Islands.
Indeed the refugee boat crisis is over now and there is no logical reason to keep these people seeking asylum imprisoned in such dire conditions on remote islands anymore.
Many of these people have fled horrible situations and instead of helping them heal our government have held them locked up and caused more misery and torment. The terrible effects on the health of these already fragile people and the great financial cost of keeping them in prison camps are deplorable and unjust. These people and their skills will have tremendous worth to this country and we should be positively utilising these, allowing them to contribute, instead of inflicting even more harm on them.
Like all of us, these fellow humans want a safe, peaceful place for their families to live and decent shelter, food and work. I hope our politicians will listen to Robert Manne’s and others compassionate pleas for common sense to prevail and we can very soon see an end to offshore detention and these long suffering people released to live the productive and happy lives they deserve to have.
Apart from anything else the present plight of these people on these island camps should disturb us, as it demeans us as a people and nation. The asylum seekers and refugees must be brought to Australia, the country that is responsible for them. These cruel and expensive offshore detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru ought to be closed.
Detention on Manus and Nauru islands alone cost the government $1.2 billion to June 2015. This huge amount of money could be better used to reverse government cuts and boast spending on health care, jobs and education.
The cost of allowing a refugee to live in the general community is $35 000, compared to $225, 000 in detention on Manus Island or Nauru. Closing down offshore detention centres on Manus Island, will save over $827 million and on Nauru, save $970 million.
Robert Manne’s heartfelt words should make us look at this issue more deeply and with more empathy and kindness, as there are other viable, humane ways to resolve this situation that also saves billions of dollars that is wasted imprisoning people on these islands.
*Robert Manne, is a leading Australian public intellectual, academic, lecturer and writer. He is an Emeritus Professor of politics at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia.
Brief Background- Asylum Seekers on Manus and Nauru.
The remote, tropical Pacific islands of Manus Island (in northern Papua New Guinea) and Nauru first became the locations for Australia’s offshore immigration detention centres in 2001, when former Prime Minister John Howard launched the “Pacific Solution”.
Labor reopened them in 2012 as part of a plan to prevent any asylum seeker arriving by boat from gaining resettlement in Australia. Liz Thompson, a former migration agent involved in refugee-assessment interviews on Manus, described the process on SBS’s Dateline as a “farce”, saying, “Manus Island is an experiment in the ultimate logic of deterrence, designed to frustrate the hell out of people and terrify them so that they go home.”
Offshore detention is designed to be so brutal that asylum seekers are forced into despair and agree to go back home to whatever they have fled. The purpose of dumping people in such remote locations is to deny them proper legal support, medical services and contact with the Australian public. Nauru is 3000 kilometres from the Australian mainland, while Manus Island lies 300 kilometres north of the main island of Papua New Guinea.
Conditions on Nauru
There were 543 asylum seekers and up to 500 people recognized as refugees on Nauru on 30 November 2015.
On Nauru, according to Dr Robert Adler, a paediatric psychiatrist who worked there providing medical services, “Families were living under a marquee, separated from one another with plastic sheets, with no easily accessible toilet or kitchen facilities, no privacy and no air-conditioning in 40 degree heat”.
Since late 2014 there have been a series of bashings, robberies and rapes on asylum seekers and refugees, as locals blame them for “taking jobs” and bringing high-handed Australian expats to their island.
The change to an “open centre” arrangement, where the detention centre gates are open, has changed little. There is no other accommodation outside the centres for people to move to. There is not enough transport to take more than a fraction of the asylum seekers out of the camp at any one time. And many are too afraid to leave the camps because of the threat of bashings and rape.
Lateline has recorded 20 rapes or sexual assaults of refugee women on Nauru in the last year. Nazanin, an Iranian asylum seeker raped in May 2015, was only brought to Australia in August. Recommendations from doctors in Australia and Nauru that Nazanin’s brother and mother be brought to Australia to aid her recovery have been ignored by the Immigration Department.
The case of Abyan, the raped Somali refugee, exposed the lies and brutal mistreatment of refugees by the Minister for Immigration, Peter Dutton and the Immigration Department. Dutton lied when he said Abyan had changed her mind and no longer wanted a termination. The Guardian reported that he ignored three separate IHMS recommendations to transfer Abyan, the first on 16 September, confirming advocates’ version of events.
There are 934 people detained on Manus Island. Amnesty International described the situation on Manus Island as “tantamount to torture”, after visiting the centre in November 2013.
In February 2014 Reza Barati was murdered in the Manus Island detention centre during an attack on asylum seekers by PNG guards. During the attack another man was shot in the hip and others lost eyes. Threats from locals against the asylum seekers continue.
Medical and other services are grossly inadequate. In August 2014 a second asylum seeker, Hamid Kehazaei, died after a simple skin infection developed into septicaemia. Former Manus Island doctor John Vallentine told the ABC’s Four Corners that the centre was “just a disaster, medically”, saying it was just “too remote” to provide proper services there.
Infections and skin diseases are rife among the asylum seekers on Manus Island. In addition to the extreme humidity, broken toilets mean asylum seekers are forced to walk through raw sewerage, often barefoot. About one in six people living on Manus Island contract malaria each year.
Asylum seekers suffer “snakes inside their accommodation, malaria, lack of malaria tablets, no mosquito nets, [and] inedible food that often has cockroaches in it”, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
Neither Nauru not Manus Island can provide safety, security or a future for asylum seekers or refugees. The government is attempting to find other countries to agree to resettle them, but has so far failed.
PNG is a poor country that is unable to accommodate refugees permanently. It still has no arrangements in place to resettle the asylum seekers, more than two years after the “PNG deal” was first signed under Kevin Rudd in 2013. On top of everything else, it is now clear that asylum seekers’ lives are in danger if they stay there.
The attempt to send refugees to Cambodia has also proven farcical. Just five have been “resettled” there, at a cost of $55 million. One already wants to go back home to Burma. Cambodia is one of the world’s least developed countries and has no infrastructure for resettlement. It is also guilty of refoulement (the forcible return of refugees or asylum seekers to a country where they are liable to be subjected to persecution). In 2009, the government deported two Uighur refugees seeking asylum back to China, the country they fled. The Philippines has also refused to accept refugees from Manus or Nauru. The latest country floated as a destination is Kyrgyzstan.
- Information from Refugee Action Coalition, Sydney, Australia.