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AUSTRALIA

Asylum seekers dreaming of Australia stuck on island 'hell'

3 min

These asylum seekers dream of a promised land, but many end up in island camps far from Australia’s pristine shores. The camps were set up by the Australian government and have been likened to prisons. Up to 700 detainees recently went on hunger strike on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea – reigniting the debate over how Canberra treats illegal immigrants.

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All photos sent to FRANCE 24 by activists who keep regular contact with asylum seekers detained on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

These asylum seekers dream of a promised land, but many end up in island camps far from Australia’s pristine shores. The camps were set up by the Australian government and have been likened to prisons. Up to 700 detainees recently went on hunger strike on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea – reigniting the debate over how Canberra treats illegal immigrants.

The Australian government has come under fire from refugee activists and even the UN for its harsh policy on asylum seekers. Thousands – from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran – attempt the treacherous sea-crossing, setting sail from Indonesia but very rarely ending up in Australia.

Photo showing detained asylum seekers on Manus Island,in Papua New Guinea.

Ex-Prime Minister Julia Gillard was the first to tighten the noose on asylum seeker policy - clamping down hard on sea-crossings and reintroducing ‘offshore processing’ in 2012. Under Australian law, anyone who arrives illegally by boat must be transferred to off-shore detention centres outside Australian jurisdiction to be ‘processed’ by a ‘third country’. In a nutshell, that legal jargon effectively takes the matter out of Australia’s hands and dumps it in the hands of two countries: Papua New Guinea and the tiny island country of Nauru. Virtually everyone who arrives is either turned back - often to Indonesia - or transferred and detained, including unaccompanied children. Legally, there is no limit to the length of time an asylum seeker may be held. According to Australia’s Human Rights Commission:

“If asylum seekers are transferred to a third country, their claims for protection will be processed under that country’s laws.”

In other words, either a ‘third party’ country [Editor’s note: Papua New Guinea or Nauru] grants asylum, or they get sent back home: scant consolidation for those who risk it all to make the trip. Whilst Papua New Guinea has approved asylum applications in the past, rights groups have raised concerns over the ultimate fate of the refugees. Papua New Guinea is already one of the world’s poorest countries where, according to Amnesty, up to 50% of women have been raped.

Photo showing a detainee collapsing after going on hunger strike on Manus Island, in Papua New Guinea.

Manus Island has resurrected the hellish debate over Canberra’s asylum policies. The camp is already infamous: last year, riots broke out when inmates were told their only settlement option was Papua New Guinea. And last week, a hunger strike that lasted more than two weeks finally ended. A handful of people stitched their mouths while at least four swallowed razor blades.

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