Asylum seekers’ protests continue on Manus Island

Issue 
An image taken inside Manus detention centre, smuggled out by refugees last year.

The Refugee Action Coalition released this statement on February 5.

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The daily protests by hundreds of asylum seekers on Manus Island that began on January 25 have now spread to all four compounds inside the detention centre.

Since January 25, up to 500 asylum seekers in the Oscar compound, the most deprived of the compounds, have been staging daily protests.

On January 30, the protests extended to Mike compound. And on January 31, hundreds more asylum seekers were in involved in protests in all four compounds.

The asylum seekers, who have been held for months without any refugee assessment, are calling on the Australian government to end their indefinite detention.

The protests come at the same time as the finding by the Papua New Guniea Supreme Court on January 30 that clears the way for opposition leader, Beldan Nemah to proceed with his constitutional challenge to the agreement between PNG and Australia that underpins the Manus Island detention centre.

The Supreme Court also found that the detainees on the island have the rights to individually make a complaint to the National Court, or file a human rights enforcement application under the PNG constitution.

The Supreme Court was also critical that the Manus Island detention centre had not been scrutinised by PNG’s own human rights watch-dogs, saying: “It is perhaps surprising that two constitutional offices that should feel a great responsibility for protection and enforcement of human rights in Papua New Guinea – the Public Solicitor and the Ombudsman Commission – appear to have shown no interest in these issues.”

The protests on Manus Island are set to continue. One asylum seeker from Manus Island told the Refugee Action Coalition: “We will keep the protests until we get answers. The conditions here are very bad. We are refugees. We need the UN. Why are we being kept here? We came to Australia for protection.”

At the same time, up to 80 Tamil asylum seekers across four Australian detention centres are facing being summarily deported to Sri Lanka.

Tamils in Darwin, Scherger and Christmas Island have been told they are going to be removed and have been told to “pack up and go to property.”

All the Tamils have been screened out. They have been refused legal assistance and denied any chance to make a protection claim.

The move comes only days after the government failed in its attempts to remove eight screened-out Iranian asylum seekers from Darwin.

“The government is denying basic rights to asylum seekers who came seeking protection from war and persecution in Sri Lanka. The government is trying to take them out of the country before they can get a fair hearing of their protection claims,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

“The government is deliberately rounding up the asylum seekers after hours to avoid any legal action that could scrutinise the screening-out process. The government’s attempt to secretively spirit people out of the country is tantamount to an admission that screening-out is unlawful and cannot be justified.

“We have grave fears for these asylum seekers. Without their protection claims being properly considered, there is no doubt that they are being sent back to danger. The Rajapaksa regime has been internationally condemned because of its human right abuses. Report after report has indicated that the regime is guilty of war crimes.

“Many Tamil asylum seekers that Australia sent back to Sri Lanka are still in jail. Australia is now complicit in the human rights abuses of the Rajapasksa regime.”

The Abbott government’s deportation attempt comes on the same day as Public Interest Advocacy Centre’s (PIAC) international crimes evidence project called for the UN to investigate the responsibility of the Rajapaksa regime for war crimes.