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Issue #1785      July 12, 2017

Nowhere to go

PNG Immigration and Australia’s Border Force are stepping up the pressure on Manus refugees and asylum seekers in an effort to force them out of the detention centre. Detainees are being told that the detention centre will close on October 31, but they have nowhere safe to go. Only a minority have been interviewed by US officials and none have been told if they have been accepted for resettlement in the US.

A “Let Them Stay” rally in Perth. (Photo: Vinnie Molina)

In the last week of June, refugees who had been housed in Foxtrot moved into the disused IHMS building near Oscar Compound, which has about 10 rooms. They were warned to leave the buildings and on June 29, PNG immigration began demolishing the building, forcing the people back to Foxtrot.

Now there are moves to evict refugees who had moved out of Foxtrot to Charlie Compound (also near Oscar compound) three weeks ago. They were told they had to leave Charlie compound or the power will be cut off.

The 10 refugees, from Myanmar, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, moved from Foxtrot when the intended closure was first announced. Charlie had been used as a classroom, but classes stopped as part of the moves to force people out of the detention centre.

If they are forced out of Charlie they will be homeless.

Border Force is trying to force people with positive refugee determinations to move to East Lorengau, outside the detention centre. But conditions there are no better – people are hungry, with no activities and no medical or mental health support.

They live under constant threat of attack. Besides the savage attacks outside, there have been robberies and break-ins even inside the guarded East Lorengau complex.

But PNG immigration and Border Force are running out of time. The current contract with Ferrovial to manage the detention centre finishes in October, but there are no safe resettlement plans for the people on Manus.

Australian Border Force officials held a meeting with Pakistani and Afghan refugees pressuring them to move to East Lorengau while there were still rooms there. When it came to this point about moving, the refugees walked out of the meeting, saying, “We won’t go to East Lorengau.”

The $70 million pay-out they recently won from the Australian government for their illegal imprisonment and physical and mental harm will not buy their future.

“The detainees do not want to stay in PNG,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition. “There is no resettlement plan and there is no safety. The government is stalling, trying to buy time, trying to save face. The government must bring them here.”

Meanwhile, just days after agreeing to pay Manus asylum seekers and refugees $70 million in damages for unlawful imprisonment and for physical and psychological damage, the government stepped up its punitive program to forcibly relocate the detainees.

On June 23, all gym equipment was removed from Mike and Oscar compounds. A new notice has announced that Foxtrot Compound will be closed and that asylum seekers should move from Foxtrot to Mike compound.

At the same time PNG Immigration and Australian Border Force began trying to force refugees to move out of the detention centre to East Lorengau Transit Accommodation – a gated complex closer to the Lorengau settlement.

The number of points that people can use in the canteen had already been reduced from 50 to 39. But all canteen items were removed, except for phone cards, pens and cigarettes.

But refugees are fearful of being forced to East Lorengau where a Bangladeshi man had his arm so savagely hacked in a machete attack as he was robbed of his phone, money and belongings, he had to be evacuated for emergency treatment in Port Morseby. Refugees in East Lorengau are vulnerable to such attacks and the attacks on refugees are increasing.

“No one is going to voluntarily move to East Lornegau when they face such danger there. The government has no concern for the welfare of the detainees. The attempt to drive them out of the detention centre is being driven by the fact that the contract for running the detention centre ends in October,” said Rintoul.

“The punitive attempt to force them into East Lorengau is also an admission that there is no resettlement in PNG.

Border Force says that moving from the detention centre to East Lorengau won’t interfere with any settlement in the US, but as yet, there is no indication of how many will ever get to the US or how long people will have to wait. The first interviews in Nauru were held seven months ago, and still no-one has gone from Nauru to the US.

On June 24, a generator was removed from Foxtrot compound in what could be the first step to cutting the electricity from the compound to increase the pressure on detainees to move out of Foxtrot.

“The government has a duty of care for the people they put on Manus Island. Increasing the punitive measures against them, can only make the already intolerable conditions, even worse,” Rintoul pointed out.

“Leaving them in danger is not an alternative. Last Good Friday, they were shot at inside the detention centre. Outside the detention centre they are attacked and robbed. The government has also robbed them of four years and their future. They must be brought to Australia.”

Vigils calling for Manus and Nauru to be evacuated are being held around the country on July 19, the four-year anniversary of Prime Minister Rudd’s declaration of the current version of offshore detention. In Sydney, the vigil will be at Hyde Park North at 6 pm.

Next article – Offshoring as crew dumped

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