Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Manus Island: Looming health crisis and immigration limbo

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Countless asylum seekers on Manus Island are stuck in immigration limbo. Around 600 refugees remain on the island, many have been held there for over 4 years.

In April 2016 the Manus Island refugee detention centre was ordered to be shut down after Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court ruled it illegal. However, there was no real plan to allow the refugees off the island. Instead they were to be transported to “alternative accommodation”, transition centres in the town of Lorengau.

The transition centres were unfinished in October and the accommodation (shipping container buildings) in these new centres are beyond substandard. The court ruling in 2016 has meant that the Australian government is now unable to keep people locked up in the offshore detention centre, but the refugees it detained remain trapped on the island. They have no papers, no ability to work, no bank accounts.

To make matters worse the government has cut healthcare facilities once provided for refugees. When the detention centre was forced to shut, many services including healthcare were withdrawn. Counselling and trauma services went with the old centre and have not been replaced.

Since the centre was shut down, small scale clinics have opened on the three accommodation centres. But they have not replaced former services and they do not provide after-hours service, care for critical patients, or care for those unable to leave their beds.

Adding to the problem, the Australian government ended its contract with the health service contractor International Health and Medical Services, IHMS. Healthcare services are now being transferred to local contractors and Papua New Guinea’s public health system.

A study by Amnesty International found that Lorengau hospital in Manus Island is operating at 33% over capacity. Half of all doctor’s positions and 43% of nurse’s positions remain vacant. Just last year two refugees on Manus Island committed suicide. Another refugee died after jumping from a bus in late May. The changes to the healthcare set up will likely lead to more deaths on Manus.

Now that the detention centre has been closed it begs the question of what will happen to the refugees currently trapped on the Island. Manus Island is a tiny island rife with unemployment and a struggling economy. Manus Island has a population of just 50,000 and extremely limited resources, meaning the long-term settlement of refugees is unsustainable without constant aid from the Australian government.

Although there is a deal with the US to trade some refugees on Manus for refugees from Central America this is not a viable option for many refugees on Manus. Trump’s immigration ban on citizens from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen means that many will be refused asylum in the US.

New Zealand has offered to take some refugees but the Australian government is refusing the offer. They claim to believe that it will encourage more boats and that the refugees will use New Zealand’s immigration laws as a backdoor into Australia.

The only viable solution is for the refugees to be allowed to come to Australia. There is no reason why all those on Manus, and those on Nauru, cannot be brought to Australia, housed, and processed in the community. The reason the government is not proceeding down this path is political.

Over the past few decades, successive Liberal and Labor governments have used refugees as a scapegoat to divert attention away from issues like housing affordability, unemployment and crumbling public services, including in the areas of health, education and public housing.

The blame for skyrocketing rents, job losses and inadequate services is not the fault of a few thousand refugees. The blame lies with capitalist governments and the big business profiteers they represent.

Working people in Australia need to campaign for affordable homes, decent jobs and proper public services for all. We should link our campaigns for better living standards to the need for refugee rights. We need an end to mandatory detention and offshore processing.

We should not allow the government to play different sets of exploited people off against each other.
There is more than enough wealth in Australia to provide for all, including refugees. The problem is that it’s being hoarded by the top 1%.

There are 65 million displaced people across the globe. Fighting for an alternative to the capitalist system that breeds war and poverty, and forces millions to flee is the only real way to solve the refugee crisis and to provide a decent future for all those on the planet.

By Corey Snoek


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