Confusion and increased tension surrounds the abrupt announcement of the closure of sections of the Manus detention centre.
It is not the first time that the government has announced that Manus would close. The PNG Supreme Court ordered its closure in April 2016, but both the PNG and the Australian governments ignored that.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton says that the prison will only “start to be decommissioned” in the run up to the end of October. But October is also when detention operator Ferrovial’s Manus contract will end.
So the pressure is mounting on the Australian government about what to do with the people that have been dumped on Manus for four years. Pressure has been stepped up to force asylum seekers to return to their home countries. The threats of forced deportations to Nepal and Lebanon have coerced asylum seekers to accept payments of up to $25,000 to return home.
Now PNG Immigration has made the surprise announcement that N block in Foxtrot compound will close on 28 May (see photo above), and that they intend to close Foxtrot compound entirely at the end of June. N block holds around 30 people, mostly Sri Lankan refugees. They can probably be absorbed into other compounds.
But the announcement also came with the threat of forced removal to the East Lorengau Transit Accommodation area near the main town on Manus. It was such a threat that provoked the mass hunger strike and takeover of the detention compounds in January 2015.
One indication of the bureaucratic confusion is the suggestion that East Lorengau could be used as temporary accommodation for refugees selected for resettlement in the US. But the US has only interviewed 300 people, and at their last visit only 70 of those had their second interview.
No one has been told if they have been accepted or not. The US team will not be back on Manus until August. So no one on Manus is going to the US any time soon.
In any case, East Lorengau can only hold around 300 people. There simply is not enough room. Nor could the Manus community tolerate 300 single men being placed in close proximity of the Lorengau settlement. The hospital is rudimentary and people do not get enough money to live on. Food has to be brought to East Lorengau to sustain the people living there.
And they are constantly preyed upon. Bashings and robberies of refugees are routine. There is no future for refugees on Manus. Nor is PNG able to resettle refugees anywhere else.
Pressured to leave
Only a day after the abrupt announcement came the revelation from documents leaked to The Guardian that Australian Border Force and PNG Immigration specifically planned to increase pressure on the Manus asylum seekers and refugees to coerce them leave the detention centre. Interestingly, the document was drafted in January 2016 just prior to the PNG Supreme Court hearing and was mindful that the court could (and did) order the closure of Manus.
It is chilling to read the clinical ruthlessness of the prison controllers planning possible violence against refugees who have been found to be owed protection because of violence used against them in their homelands.
The forced separation of asylum seekers and refugees (refugees in Oscar and Delta Compounds, mostly asylum seekers in Foxtrot and Mike) was flagged in the January security review but only put into effect three months later in April. Despite their plan, the intimidation and use of police, that was about all they managed to achieve.
One part of the document says, “Conditions for refugees at East Lorengau refugee transit centre should be more attractive than for refugees at Lombrum RPC [the detention centre].” That is over a year ago, but despite all the efforts very few people have been willing to shift there.
The documents also admit, “Manusians, already affronted by the imposition of 1000 men with whom they have been forced to share their small, resource-poor island, are wary of, if not outright hostile towards, the new arrivals.” There is still only one way to guarantee the safety and secure future of those people dumped on Manus, as well as Nauru—bring them here.
By Ian Rintoul