Refugees on Manus Island: ‘It's like a war zone’

A Sudanese refugee received stitches after being hit by rock.
Saturday, April 22, 2017

In a live video on Twitter a man is speaking rapidly. He gives his name as “Maoud, my ID is GRL11”. Then he says: “The local guys attacked the camp and they just used the guns, they just shoot the gun. I don’t know what to do…” A gunshot is heard and he appears to duck, before looking up and saying “they just shoot”. Then the video cuts out.

Throughout the night of April 14 more distressed and urgent messages came from the Manus Island detention centre via Facebook, Twitter and texts to activists in Australia — the very communication methods the Australian government has been trying to ban.

MD Imran, a man detained on Manus Island said on Facebook: “The camp is under attack. The Navy officers are firing. I am hiding in my room.”

Photos soon appeared that showed bullet holes in fences, windows and the walls of the rooms in which people were attempting to hide, disproving the Department of Immigration’s claims that weapons were only discharged into the air.  

One man reported: “They are firing on us directly now. I would be died in just 10 inch. I came to my room. I really can't believe that I am still alive.”

Another man, Walid, said: “Mr Dutton you want to settle us here? Where we will be treated with guns and bullets!! Turnbull you was here for contracting with the police and navy for this? U said we will take one step at a time. Was this the first step?? What’s the next plan?”

Another said: "We were not safe in our home country and we are not safe in detention centre too. Is there any safe place for us in this world?"

Iranian cartoonist on Manus Island Eaten Fish’s latest cartoon, drawn in the aftermath, depicts a lonely and sad Eaten Fish standing in front of a globe full of do not enter signs and with the text “No country for refugees”.

As the smoke cleared, at least three refugees were found to be seriously injured. A Sudanese man injured in the head, another in the chest and a Pakistani, injured in the stomach, was urinating blood. Further details of the attack also began to appear.

It started with refugees playing a game of football on Good Friday evening at the naval base where the detention centre is located. A drunken navy soldier started an altercation that led to a fight. Refugees then ran to centre followed by locals throwing stones and later navy personnel with guns.

Australian guards and staff then fled the centre, leaving the refugees to fend for themselves. It was a situation that some described as being “like a war” — this from people who have fled war in the Middle East.

Why Manus Island

It is well known that Australia’s detention system is designed to rival the conditions people flee from, pushing some to suicide and others into accepting voluntary deportation.

This latest incident is not an accident that needs to be investigated. It is the direct result of putting detention centres in places such as Manus Island.

It has happened before. In 2014 PNG locals and guards attacked refugees in the detention centre and Reza Berati, a healthy 24-year-old Kurdish asylum seeker was bashed to death. The men who witnessed his murder are still on Manus Island.

Asylum seekers who have been found to be refugees and accepted resettlement in PNG, such as Loghman Sawari — who is also homeless and unable to find work — have been regularly assaulted and robbed.

PNG is among the 10 poorest countries in Asia. More than 40% of its people survive by subsistance farming. Many people suffer from a lack of basic services such as health care, education, access to food and jobs.

Australia has forced more than 1000 refugees to live on Manus Island, which has a population of 33,000. PNG’s average annual income is $2250 a year, but Australia spends more than $1 million to detain each refugee. In the four years since it was opened in late 2012, Australia has spent $2 billion to imprison refugees on Manus Island.  

By placing a detention centre on Manus Island and saying refugees can only be resettled in PNG — not Australia — the Australian government is creating conflict between refugees and PNG locals.

Bring them here

The Good Friday attack has prompted renewed calls to bring them here.

Church leaders called on the Australian government to immediately evacuate Manus Island. In a statement on April 15 they said: "For the latest outbreak of violence to occur on Good Friday, an important part of the Christian calendar, there can be no ignoring the synergy of suffering.”

Daniel Webb from The Human Rights Law Centre said: “It is Malcolm Turnbull’s responsibility to ensure these men are evacuated to safety and can finally get on with rebuilding their lives.”

Several hundred people held a vibrant snap rally in Melbourne on April 17.

Refugees detained on Manus Island signed a letter that said: “To those who dragged and forced us to air plane from CI/Darwin and dropped us of to Manus Island: We people who have been detained on Manus Island for about 4 years against our will, are requesting to be moved to some safe place. We’ve been under military attack be machine guns and also locals a couple of times in which once Reza Berati was murdered in 2014. We don’t feel safe here and are very worried about our safety in the Centre. Everyone is terrified due to current attack by PNG Defence Force by Machine guns. Our lives is in danger, please remove us to some place safe.”

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