SYDNEY – Amnesty International criticized on Thursday the Government of Australia for moving the refugees on Manus island, north of Papua New Guinea, from one hellish situation to another, and prolonging the violation of their rights.
In 2017, the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea declared the Australian-run detention complex for asylum seekers on Manus Island illegal and ordered its closure on Oct. 31.
Many of the immigrants occupying the facilities opposed the court decision and refused to leave, which subsequently led Papuan police and military to forcibly evict those refugees from the compound a month after the deadline imposed by the court.
The asylum seekers were transferred to a new shelter in the town of Lorengau, but were deemed unwelcome by the locals.
Amnesty International, which based its report – “Punishment not protection: Australia’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea” – on interviews with 55 asylum seekers and refugees on the remote island, criticized these temporary detention facilities as “inadequate.”
“Moving refugees and asylum seekers from one hellish situation to another is not a solution, it is just prolonging these desperate men’s suffering,” said Kate Schuetze, Amnesty International’s Pacific Researcher.
“The new centers on Manus Island are not just a safety risk, but also leave those who live there without basic services,” the researcher said.
Schuetze urged the Australian government to “end its cruel offshore detention policies and immediately bring refugees and asylum seekers to Australia or to a safe third country.”
The AI representative also accused the Australian government of “implementing new and creative ways to shirk its responsibility and violate international law.”
The human rights organization also reiterated its complaint about the lack of treatment for mental health problems, estimating that about 88 percent of those detained on the island suffered from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Many of the asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru have fled conflicts in Afghanistan, Darfur, Pakistan, Somalia and Syria; while others have escaped discrimination such as the Muslim-minority Rohingya refugees from Myanmar.
The refugees have reported several unsafe encounters with the locals, who have blocked access to their land and services, as well as behaved violently with the immigrants, while local authorities are reported to be indifferent about the situation.
Almost all of the immigrants on the island, including those with refugee status, lack identity documents, which consequently restricts their freedom of movement as well as limits their chances of finding employment.
The Manus detention center and another facility in Nauru, in the Pacific, opened after Australia reactivated its controversial policy of processing asylum applications in third countries in 2012.
Activists and foreign media have been banned from visiting the detention compound in Nauru by the local authority.