Local News

We've cut off the food, water, security for hundreds. Their crime? Trying to escape persecution

Over 600 men are starving, scared and humilated but our government refuses to acknowledge the humanitarian crisis.

By Kate Wagner and Tessa Rex
Refugees on Manus are embroiled in a terrifying situation and Australia is to blame, so why are we washing our hands of it?
Over 600 men have had all their food, water, electricity and security cut off; left to fend for themselves in a hostile environment at the mercy of the PNG Navy who stormed the centre earlier this year.
There are no illusions; the global community knows these men are there because of the Australian government, but Turnbull and Shorten refuse to acknowledge that a humanitarian crisis is unfolding at our doorstep.
The duplicity of the government was made further apparent this afternoon when Turnbull defended Josh Frydenberg's dual citizenship by saying his Hungarian mother "came here to avoid prison camp" while men dig for drinking water on the camp.
Russell Crowe has joined a growing number of voices voicing their disgust at the government’s treatment of the refugees at Manus, even offering to house and find jobs for at least six of them.
The UN, however, hasn’t been shy about pointing out our involvement. In a statement, UNHCR urged the Australian government to work with PNG authorities to “immediately de-escalate an increasingly tense and unstable situation”.
“Australia remains responsible for the well-being of all those moved to Papua New Guinea,” they added.
“UNHCR urges Australia to take responsibility and provide protection and safety to these vulnerable human beings.”
Sure, robbing people of water in a place that’s averaging 31 degrees every day and forcing them to dig wells is degrading and inhumane, but the UN is also referencing to the woefully inadequate mental health support on the island.
Eight men have died in detention facilities on Manus Island and Nauru, one of which committed suspected suicide last month after friends said the Tamil man had grown increasingly distressed and anxious at the centre without adequate care.
WATCH: Walid Zazai's heartbreaking plea to be shot rather than starve to death on Manus.
There are only four immigration and citizenship service authority caseworkers providing help to over 700 refugees and asylum seekers – people who have undoubtedly experienced extensive trauma and stress.
“Welfare arrangements, including critical torture and trauma counselling services, are insufficient at present for refugees and asylum-seekers on Manus Island,” the UN said in their statement.
There have been reports of Manusians armed with machetes looting the centre and last month, an Iranian asylum seeker claimed to be attacked by local men who left him unconscious and fractured his skull with a metal rod while robbing him of his money and mobile phone.
Greens senator Nick McKim has gone so far as to say the closure of the camp, with no long-term alternative, could result in death.
"The potential here is that some detainees may die as a result of the announcement ... Papua New Guinea is not a safe place for these detainees," Senator McKim told reporters in Hobart on Tuesday.
The reality is if people are saying that after almost five years at a detention centre, they would rather be shot than move to another one, it’s time to listen.
As Australians, we have far more financial, medical and social resources to help these people than the Manusians and, even if Turnbull’s government wants to pretend we don’t, we also have the moral imperative to do so.
The fact that we can’t even house 600 asylum-seekers is terrifying.
In 2016, Australians only took 27,600 of the 65.6 million individuals who were forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, or human rights violations.
With climate change, the number is only going to get higher and based on our treatment of those at Manus and Nauru, we’re headed for a catastrophe.
The culmination of rising sea levels, diminished food production and fresh water as well as oil and resource wars will result in an exponentially higher number of refugees – are we still going to be using this ‘offshore processing’ system that clearly doesn’t work?
No one deserves to be held in eternal limbo just because of where they were born.