Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Manus Island like “hell on Earth”

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Earlier this year, Reza Barati, an Iranian refugee was killed and more than 60 others were injured when Papua New Guinea (PNG) nationals entered the Australian-run detention centre on Manus Island armed with machetes, guns and other weapons.

By Tim Tran, Socialist Party

The brutal murder came after a peaceful protest by many of the refugees who have suffered months and years in limbo with little information about their future. They face conditions that people who have worked at the detention centre describe as “hell on Earth”.

Ex-detention centre staff have detailed the concentration camp like environment where refugees face regular beatings, racist slurs and rapes. Some refugees have been given a dangerous anti-malaria medication that has serious side-effects while staff were warned not to take it.

Eyewitness accounts have revealed how the local PNG Mobile squad and police were sent into the camp where they beat Reza Barati to death. They also fired shots at the detainees before attempting to collect shell casings afterwards to cover up the savage one-sided violence. The level of brutality shocked even some security guards who have since come out to condemn the whole detention system.

Huge tensions have built up on Manus Island since the rush to pour taxpayers’ money into the so-called “PNG solution” of the last Labor government. The island is part of an impoverished PNG which has long been a victim of Australian imperialism in the region.

PNG’s economy is dependent on Australian aid and this has been used to force PNG to agree to house asylum seekers coming to Australia. Local people have protested against the land grab which occurred in order to build the detention centre. People were told that the detention centre would create jobs but many staff are flown in from Australia. Those locals who have been given jobs get paid less than $2 a day.

What happened on Manus Island has created huge amounts of anger. Millions of people are rightly concerned about the government’s handling of the issue. Immigration Minister Scott Morrison not only attempted to cover up the events but also gave out wrong information about the details of what happened.

The PNG police and the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection are carrying an investigation into the events. This has been a sham. It is a farce that the very people who carried out the attacks and who deliberately held back information from public scrutiny are the investigators. Some of the witnesses remain in detention and have received death threats and warned their claims for refugee status will be rejected if they speak up.

The Manus Island violence is just the latest in a long list of atrocities that have occurred as a result of both Liberal and Labor’s mandatory detention and offshore processing policy. Both of the major parties are hell bent on scapegoating refugees attempting to blame them for problems created by the profit driven system.

As the government attempts to wind back our living standards even further through the measures outlined in the budget we can expect this victim-blaming to continue. In response we need point out that Australia has huge amounts of wealth. If it was distributed more equally we would not need to endure budget cuts and we would have more than enough resources to accommodate refugees fleeing war and persecution.

If the policies of offshore processing and mandatory detention were scrapped this would free up billions more dollars that could be spent on creating jobs, homes and services for all.


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