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The Deepening Crisis on Manus

What a weekend it has been. The Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea may well have closed, but the protests, and those resident at the camp, continue to defy and prevaricate. At a protest in Melbourne on Saturday, Australian Greens MP Adam Bandt decided to get down and indignant with his calls to the Australian government.

“These people,” claimed Bandt, referencing those refusing to leave the Lombrum naval base, “have committed no crime other than to do what every single one of us would do if we thought our lives, or our family’s lives, were at risk.”

The immigration minister, Peter Dutton, stonily silent, was singled out for special mention. “To look at the face of Peter Dutton is to stare into the eyes of someone who is prepared to kill people for political gain, and it’s time he was held to account for his crime against humanity.”

Dutton, for his part, insists that the new facilities are better, a sort of accommodation promotion. On Channel 9’s Today Show on November 2, the minister explained that the new residences constituted a “much better facility that where people are at the moment and I’d just say to the advocates here who are telling people not to move, to resist moving centres; that they’re not doing those people any favours.”

The new facilities, comprising three sites for accommodation, have been given a curiously travel touch up in some reports. Peter Hartcher of The Age, for instance, describes the East Lorengau Refugee Transit Centre as having “room for 400 people” with healthcare and “security for the protection of the residents.”

West Lorengau Haus has room for a further 300 refugees. “For confirmed refugees, the PNG government pays an allowance for food and other necessities but they need to cook their own food.” The third facility, Hillside Haus, covers those whose claims for refugee status have failed, one which will receive catered mills.

The sting in Hartcher’s commentary lies in pouring cold water, and more, on the claims that there is a crisis, or at least one that has not been manufactured by Australian or PNG authorities. The former detention facility at Lombrum navy base, for instance, had been open for some 18 months, “with asylum seekers able to come and go as they pleased”. They merely had to return to the centre at night.

These descriptions fortify the line of the irresponsible refugee, dandified, coddled, indignant and even fraudulent. This, despite the legal ruling by the PNG Supreme Court that such a facility was illegal, not to mention the numerous accounts of violence that have been documented by Human Rights Watch.

On the ground, not much coddling is taking place and few are buying the paradise packaged rhetoric that hope is around the corner. One such unflappable sceptic is Behrouz Boochani, who has been incessant on his Twitter account, streaming updates with pious, pilgrim-like dedication. Of latest concern in the next chapter of whether a move to the designated sites at Lorengau will take place centred on the heart condition of one of the refugees.

The refugee with heart problems just arrived in Lorengau, about 40 kilometres from here [the camp]. Such a terrible night, will write about it later.” Then followed a tweet that the situation was “critical in Manus” and that a doctor was tending to the patient after four and a half hours. “Such a long time for emergency cases.”

Boochani, as is his wont, then shot a moral warning, a call to Australian authorities on complicity. “Anything bad [sic] happen for the refugee with heart pain Australia is responsible. You can not continue to kill people because of medical neglect.

The infliction of death is a matter of relative assessment. The Australian government, backed by the Labor opposition, holds that a policy detaining people in tropical centres in the Pacific away from the mainland saves foolish lives and retards the “people smuggling industry”.

This fine cut fiction is based largely on a brutish assumption that the problem vanishes, when it, in fact, merely moves elsewhere. Where there are means to flee, and individuals happy to capitalise on assisting, there will be trade, however bestial and risky it may be. (What would Dutton make of the people smugglers of the post-Second World War period?)

The global problem on accepting and processing refugee claims, and the issue of settlement and integration, remain ones where wealthy states, on the whole, remain stern and austere in the face of desperation. Poorer states, challenged by a lack of infrastructure, are left to foot the bill, the modern serfs of the international humanitarian system. The Australian solution, singular and very colonial in inspiration, is to pay middlemen states and outsource legal obligations.


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  1. helvityni

    Sad state of affairs if a political party is going to make POLITICAL GAIN out of treating asylum seekers inhumanely.

    I’ll leave Shorten to flog the suffering men of Manus to NZ, and take my support to the Greens.

    Now I find out that Turnbull has yet again said NO to NZ’s offer….No cracks in the long dark Coalition tunnel…

  2. Matters Not

    Dutton, the driver of the political bus, wouldn’t allow him. Perhaps prepared to pay more than the current $90 million.

    Remember, Dutton is a terrorist. Mal lives in political fear.

  3. helvityni

    Just saw a picture of Mal shaking hands with Jacinda, she is smiling and looking at him, he is directing his most “charming” smile at the cameras… Charming…

  4. Matters Not

    People smugglers now have a new advertising pitch in the light of Mal’s hopes and dreams re Trump’s commitments.

    See Australia first – America awaits.

  5. Adrianne Haddow

    Dutton’s stubborn refusal to countenance any merciful solutions for these asylum seekers, has turned 600 potential citizens into 600 potential enemies.
    This man should never have been allowed near a ministerial portfolio, let alone permitted to head a ‘super ministry’ of enforcers.
    Government ministers should demonstrate the skills of negotiation, resolution and flexibility in solving problems. Dutton has never publicly displayed any of these skills.
    This costly offshore detention, secret operations, contracts with questionable private security firms and rogue governments, and ‘tough stance’ intractability have been made to the detriment of our international reputation regarding human rights and to our national self esteem.

  6. win jeavons

    Is Dutton a human or an automatic robot? There is no soul behind those eyes. I shudder to think of how far down his current road he is willing to travel. Perhaps our entitled lords and masters ( never our servants) are leaving all our human concerns to an algorithm while they swan around in oversized hats and expensive suits and vehicles.

  7. Shogan

    Surely 4 years of punishment & degradation of the asylum seekers & the outright debasing of any standing Australia had left, which probably is much these days, on the world stage is enough & it’s time to get these people to a safe place to live & work & add to their new community & get on with their lives…enough is enough!!!

  8. diannaart

    So, more money spent on building new facilities, no money to find permanent and safe home for refugees? And saying no to New Zealand? WTF?

    Shame Liberals, shame Nationals, shame Labor! I do not expect anything positive from the PHON.

  9. wam

    Hard to read past the bit of feared for our families there are hundreds of men their families are home in the danger that caused their flight.
    Dutton may be soulless but brandt is the new looney male, pragmatic and as disingenuous as trumball.

  10. Hettie Lynch

    Dutton’s own electoral office in Dickson is said to resemble a bunker.
    No signage, no access from the street, only from the carpark, through locked doors and a camera / intercom system. State your business and identity before you are permitted to enter.
    Looks like the Minister for Torture, without having suffered any mistreatment at their hands, is mighty afraid of the people who live and work around his office.
    Why, then, has he no compunction about demanding that the Manus political prisoners, who have indeed suffered grievous bodily harm at the hands of the people of Lorengau, should go to accommodation which has no security against those who have attacked them, and are even now threatening to kill them?
    The detention centre has fences and 35km of distance from the own of Lorengau to protect them.
    It has no electricity. No sanitation. No mosquito control. No water. No food. No medical care.
    The men collect rainwater in garbage bins when it rains, and are digging wells for water when the rain fails.
    In the tropical heat, 644 men will soon die of dehydration
    Dead, they will be no problem. Except for burial.
    If they are forced to go to Lorengau, and are massacred there, as the locals threaten, Australia, the lucky country, with boundless plains to share, will shrug its complacent shoulders and say, “They should have stayed at home to be bombed/shot/publicly beheaded/tortured.”

  11. coralsturgess

    Dutton will rot in Hell for his cruelty and total disregard for human suffering and even human life. The devil has his pitchfork warmed up and waiting.

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