Asylum-seekers kept on Manus Island, an island in Papua New Guinea, were forcibly moved from a detention centre to a new transit camp on Thursday and Friday this week. Our Observer was one of the people taken to the new centre against his will.
Australia uses Manus Island to keep refugees trying to get to Australia by boat. Many of these people have been detained on the island for years, and have lost hope of ever getting to Australia – or even managing to leave the island. Authorities decommissioned the Manus Regional Processing Centre on October 31, but a group of asylum-seekers living there refused to leave, because of their concerns about safety at the new centre near the city of Lorengau. Papua New Guinea police then carried out Operation “Helpim Friends” [‘Help Friends’ in Papua New Guinea pidgin], which promised to clear the centre without using force.
This year, there have been violent attacks against refugees on the island, including several incidents where refugees were robbed and attacked with machetes while walking in public.
However, photos and videos published on social media showed aggressive attempts by police to drag out refugees, including hitting them with poles. Those living there reported that the police stole or destroyed their property, smashing mobile phones, spoiling homemade wells and even breaking up furniture to make the centre uninhabitable.
The detention centre after the raid. Photo sent by our Observer.
Australia’s immigration minister Peter Dutton said that refugees’ stories of abuse at the hands of security forces were “inaccurate and exaggerated”. Australian police said they did not have a hand in the evacuation operation, although detainees’ accounts refute this.
An account from Iranian journalist, activist and detainee Behrouz Boochani.
“They are not treating us like humans”
Ezatullah Kakar, 25, is a Pakistani refugee who has been on Manus Island since 2013. He was forced to move to West Lorengau Haus on the morning of Friday, November 24. ‘West Haus’ is a transit centre where asylum-seekers are free to come and go; they are not allowed to leave the island. He spoke to us about the raid, and about conditions in the new camp.
I am now in West Haus in the new accommodation, but it’s still under construction. A lot of the rooms are not complete, and there’s no air conditioning. We have some water, but not enough for all of us. Of course people are worried.
We knew the police were going to come to the old camp. We had been protesting for 24 days. We told Australian Immigration that we didn’t want new accommodation, but they said we didn’t have a choice. They [the Papua New Guinea local police] came around 7am on Thursday and started abusing us, saying really inacceptable words, insulting us. It was the PNG police but there were Australian people behind them.
People were crying; we are so exhausted with this situation. In my compound we refused to go and eventually they went away, but they told us they would come tomorrow. So we didn’t sleep last night. This morning they came with sticks and started abusing us. They grabbed people’s phones and broke them. The police tried to find mine but I had hidden it with a friend before. They started kicking us and hitting us, and saying we had to leave the compound. I managed to hide and watched as they beat up my friends. Then they started throwing them in the buses and hurting them, so we decided that we had to go – we couldn’t leave them.
And now we are in the new camp, and it feels like the old detention centre, it feels the same. One of my friends is hurt after yesterday and they have not come to treat him. I have just lost hope. They are not treating us like humans. In four and a half years they have not treated me well. Two months ago I lost two friends because they hanged themselves on trees in the jungle outside the centre.
Tim Costello, an advocate for NGO World Vision, saw the conditions at the new detention centre. "I got into West Haus and I can tell you this is a construction site, this is not finished," Mr Costello told ABC Radio. "There is earth-moving equipment, there are open drains."
Afraid to leave, out of fear of the locals
What is going to happen? Why are they keeping us in this prison? We can’t leave because we are scared of the locals. When we arrived in the new camp there were around nine people who came and protested against our being there. We don’t have transport. We don’t have jobs. Outside, there is just the jungle. The locals are really dangerous. They attack us. I don’t want to fight. I would never fight back.
>> READ ON THE OBSERVERS: Detainee tells of hellish existence in Australia's off-shore detention centre
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