Eyewitness account: Camp closure chaos

September 29, 2017
60th day of protest in Manus Island detention centre

The men in Manus Island detention began their 59th day of protest on September 29, days after a handful of their friends left for the US. They held their tired arms above their heads in a cross, a gesture that has become symbolic of refugee protests in detention.

About 25 of the several hundred men on Manus Island have being offered settlement in the US.

Behrouz Boochani, speaking to Green Left Weekly from Manus Island, said he “can’t describe the happiness on the faces of the men who left. But also there was sadness. They know there are still 800 of us left here in this prison camp.

“We just want the Australian government to answer our simple questions: how many people will go to America, when will they go, and what is your plan for those people left behind?”

Instead immigration minister Peter Dutton chose to comment on the clothes the men going to the US were wearing.

Under the deal, the US is under no obligation to accept any refugees. But, even if everyone passes Trump’s vetting, the US has agreed to take fewer people than there are currently in Manus Island and Nauru detention centres.

The Australian government is continuing to shut down Manus Island detention centre around the several hundred people still inside, still protesting. They have shut off water, power and demolished the phone building, leaving many people unable to communicate with loved ones back home.

This is what led to the daily protests. The men released a photo of themselves protesting with the statement “The sea has more mercy than Australia. The sea kill once but Australia is killing us every day. Australia has violated human rights for 4 years.”

Behrouz said: “We still protest every day at 2pm and are calling on the government to stop pushing us to leave the detention centre and accept to live in PNG. East Lorengau camp is not a safe place for the refugees. The number of the attacks by the local people has increased in past few months and we are sure that if we go there more people will be targeted by the local people.

“The Manusian people don’t want us in their community but both governments don’t care, the local people want to send a message to the government through beating the refugees.”

The centre will be fully closed by the end of October.

The Australian government has already moved about a hundred people from Manus Island to Port Moresby, supposedly for medical reasons. The men dispute this and show photos of themselves being forcibly moved in handcuffs.

They, with Andrew Kutapae, general secretary of the PNG Greens, are organising a protest outside PNG’s parliament.

Kutapae, speaking to Green Left Weekly from Port Moresby, said he wants to send a message that the asylum seekers “want to go. They are not satisfied with the conditions in Port Moresby and Manus Island.

“They are human beings like any other human beings and they left their country because their life was in danger. If they go back they will be killed.

“We want them to be returned to Australia because they are genuine refugees.

“There’s a letter that I want to send to the [Australian] minister for immigration on behalf of the asylum seekers telling him that the asylum seekers should be sent to Australia.”

Kutapae said he started organising the protest when he met the refugees in Port Moresby, where “they are not being looked after properly”.

“Some of the asylum seekers I interviewed said they are not being given any money. They get three meals a day but they are not good meals. They are given cigarettes and because they don’t have the money for other things they sometimes sell the cigarettes to buy other necessary things.”

Kutapae said the protest is planned for this week, when parliament is in session. “Four or five of the refugees, just a few of them, will come in cars with placards and take them to the parliament area and then people willing to support me will come with me, come with the refugees.”

Kutapae said having a protest outside PNG parliament is important, especially in terms of getting the message heard in PNG. “Hopefully people in Australia will help us do something here, instead of just going to the media.

“People in Australia are talking about it but no one here pays any attention. But they will if we do something here and that might change the attitude and mindset of the politicians.”

The greatest challenge is finding the funds for the protest. Funds are needed for transport, phone credit for media work and security costs, as it dangerous for refugees to protest in Port Moresby. The PNG Greens are a very small party with no parliamentary representatives and thus no funding. Kutapae works as an unpaid general secretary of the party.

Finally, I ask Behrouz what is driving people to continue protesting on Manus Island. He replied: “The people think that they have to continue to protest because they feel that It’s the last step. Of course the refugees are very tired after more than four years but they are determined to keep fighting for their rights; 58 days is too many but the refugees are determined to keep protesting until the day of freedom.”

[To donate:

Name: PNG Green's Party

Address: 8 mile Ridge, Moresby North East, P O Box 5657, BOROKO, NCD

Bank: Bank South Pacific

Address: Musgrave Street. Port Moresby, NCD.

Account no: 7009182259

BSB: 088 - 202

Swift Code: BOSPPGPM]

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