Last week, UN officials once again called upon the Australian government to address the situation regarding refugees on Manus Island (Papua New Guinea) and to "live up to its responsibilities." More than 700 refugees remain in offshore processing facilities where health, security, and human rights are frequently put in jeopardy. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) urged the Australian and Papua New Guinean governments to take a humane solution.
According to the UNHCR, 3172 refugees have been transferred by Australia to facilities in Papua New Guinea and Nauru since 2013. The refugees hail from a range of regions from the Middle East to Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, most of them risking their lives in a dangerous sea crossing to the Australian coast. These were the refugees that were called into question by President Trump’s tweet in February 2017, calling an Obama-era agreement to bring 1250 refugees to the US with the Australian government a “dumb deal."
After the Papua New Guinean Supreme Court ruled the Australian facilities as unconstitutional, the camp was set for closure on October 31, 2017 – a move that the UN Human Rights Committee disparaged for not allowing "adequate arrangements for long-term viable relocation solutions for all refugees and asylum seekers." A representative for the UNHCR found the construction of the new sites unfinished, with "heavy machinery on the ground as well, fences still being constructed." They also found the new sites lacking in trauma-counseling and interpretation services.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International were alarmed by the conditions on the island after police forcibly removed refugees to the new unfinished sites in late November. Multiple security incidents have been reported at the new facilities, where an ongoing dispute between local landowners and the government’s contractor – JDA Wokman – have interrupted services to the refugee holding facilities. Local residents have also approached the government detainment facilities, sometimes armed with machetes and batons, and threatened the asylum seekers inside. Since the initiation of the program, more than six refugees have died, including Faysal Ahmed, who was denied appropriate medical treatment 13 times.
Australia has refused to resettle any refugees on the mainland, insisting it would have to find third country resettlement options. The country also has repeatedly denied a New Zealand offer to take in a number of refugees, claiming that such a move would make Australia a backdoor for New Zealand and encourage more crossings. One must hope that a viable and humane solution is quickly found.
Official News Bulletin
UNHCR Fact Sheet on the Situation on Manus Island
Wenhan Sun is a high school student at The Barstow School.