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The long wait on Manus Island

Asylum seeker accommodation on Manus Island

Recent protests by refugees and the reprisal by local police and security contractors at the Manus Island Detention Centre have left one asylum seeker dead and more than 60 others wounded.

The unrest was sparked by an announcement made to asylum seekers that they would not be leaving Manus Island or Papua New Guinea regardless of whether they are found to be refugees.

Mohsen Soltani, a refugee from Iran now living in Australia, said he spoke to detainees on Manus Island over the phone at the time of the protests.

“Since that time, I didn’t hear anything from them because obviously immigration have cut the telephone lines,” he said.

Mr Soltani, who spent four years in detention at Perth and Villawood detention centres during the Howard government, said the major issue faced by the detainees is a lack of information.

“They don’t know about their future, that is the worst problem. No one gives any response to them. No one gives any information to them,” he said.

Hayley Byrne worked as an ESL teacher at the Manus Island Detention Centre in early 2013. She said the living conditions were harsh and were meant to be so, in order to act as a deterrent.

“The worst thing really, was the lack of any kind of processing. It was the fact that there was purposefully no processing, no interviews, no case managers, nothing like that,” she said

Ms Byrne told City Hub she was not surprised by the recent outbreak of violence, as the situation has deteriorated.

“It’s worse now because at that stage it was ‘we’re not going to process you for five or so years to punish you’,” she said.

“Now it’s ‘we’re not really processing you and if you are, it’s for you to stay in Papua New Guinea if you’re a refugee or be deported if you’re not’.”

Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition said the overriding problem on Manus Island is that the asylum seekers are in limbo.

“They can’t get any answers, they’re constantly intimidated and that’s what led to the protests, when they were told they wouldn’t be leaving the island,” he said.

Mr Rintoul said PNG police entered the centre on the Monday night accompanied by local employees of G4S, the private contracting company in charge of security.

“Nothing can account for the savage reprisal that came on the Monday night. [They] started to quite savagely beat any asylum seeker that they could find.”

Paul Power, CEO of the Refugee Council of Australia, said conditions on Manus Island are the result of intentional government policy to prevent asylum seekers by boat being resettled in Australia.

“For many years, the Australian government has understood the consequences of indefinite, long-term detention on the mental health of asylum seekers,” he said.

“Until asylum seekers are given pathways to finalise their refugee status, we will see more serious incidents on Manus Island, Nauru and in facilities like Christmas Island.”

Marrickville Greens councillor Sylvie Ellsmore said asylum seekers should have a short processing time within Australia, as 98 per cent of applicants turn out to be genuine refugees.

“It’s explicit policy of the government to make things more difficult for them when they come to Australia,” she said.

“They’re deliberately trying to intimidate and abuse asylum seekers to discourage them from coming.”

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