The refugees occupying the closed Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea (PNG) were forcibly removed at the end of November last year, ending one chapter of their brave stand against the appalling conditions they are forced to endure.
The men at the closed centre are still being detained despite having been granted refugee status. They were refusing to move from the closed centre as they feared for their safety and said the conditions at the new facilities they were being asked to move to were even worse. They were also demanding an end to their detention by being resettled in a country where their safety can be guaranteed.
Since the men were moved, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has visited the new facilities in Lorengau. The UNHCR’s statement and videos and photos from the refugees have confirmed that the refugees were correct about the three facilities in Lorengau.
The conditions at the East Lorengau transit centre are terrible. To start with, the new facility wasn’t even finished when the refugees were brought in. There are not enough showers or toilets, and the healthcare is totally inadequate for both mental and physical health needs.
On top of all of this, many locals are hostile to the refugees. Locals have loitered around the outside of the centres on numerous occasions threatening the refugees with violence. It didn’t take long before they escalated their threats into action with numerous security threats reported by the UNHCR.
These include incidents where locals have entered the centres with weapons, where refugees have been physically attacked and where the locals have blockaded access to the centre, preventing the entry of food, medicine and staff for days on end.
Despite the overwhelming evidence and condemnation from the UNHCR, as well as many other advocacy groups, the Australian government continues to deny that there is a problem on Manus, or with their refugee policy in general.
Instead, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull insists that we have “one of the most generous humanitarian programs in the world.” This is a blatant lie. The government twists the resettlement figures to give the impression of being generous but, according to the UNHCR, of the 2.5 million refugees who had their status recognised or were resettled in 2016, just 1.43% were assisted by Australia. Seven of the ten countries receiving the most refugees last year were actually in Africa.
Not only is the Australian government not doing enough, it is also costing taxpayers a fortune to lock up the small number of refugees held in offshore detention. Recently released figures show that $346,178 is spent per refugee! For this amount they could be housed comfortably onshore, in the community.
However, it’s not just the Coalition that are to blame for this crisis. Refugees themselves acknowledge Labor’s treacherous role in mandatory detention. It’s worth remembering that Labor re-started offshore processing in 2012 and excised the mainland from its migration zone the same year. Empty words from a couple of individual Labor MPs is not enough.
The next federal election is widely speculated to be held in August or September. With Labor currently polling ahead of the Coalition it is possible that they are thrown into office. Pressure must be brought to bear on both the major parties. This would be best done if the trade union movement took action. The public sector unions should direct their members to refuse to assist the government in their human rights abuses.
While we should fight for reforms to the refugee policies of both the major parties, the only way to really deal with the refugee problem is to fight for an alternative to the capitalist system. Only a world free of war and persecution can undermine the issue at its core. And only a system based on people’s needs, rather than profits, will ensure that all people are treated with dignity and respect.
The Socialist Party demands:
• Immediately close all offshore detention centres and allow refugees to live in the community.
• Use the money wasted on mandatory detention and offshore processing to create jobs, build homes, and provide services for all, including asylum seekers.
• For the trade union movement and community groups to wage a mass campaign of direct action to end the government’s inhumane refugee policies.
• Build a political alternative to the major parties, a new left party that puts people before profits and fights for refugee rights.
By Kat Galea