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Manus Island: 'Cruel' court ruling risks refugee tragedy

Critical services - including food, water and medical treatment - must be restored to the more than 600 refugees and vulnerable men inside Lombrum detention centre on Manus Island before a major tragedy occurs, Amnesty International said today.

Kate Schuetze, Amnesty International’s Pacific Researcher, said:

“Today, Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court rejected a last-ditch attempt by refugees to have these essential services restored and their rights protected. The decision is an abhorrent attack on the right to life.

“If authorities don’t act immediately, there is a real risk that the situation will catastrophically deteriorate. The lives of these men, who are only asking for their rights to dignity and safety, are at serious risk.

“In 2013, when I first visited the detention centre on Manus Island, a number of refugees described conditions as a ‘psychological war’ designed to break people mentally. Four years later, cruel tactics are still being used to pressure refugees to relocate or settle in Papua New Guinea.”

Amnesty researchers witnessed an emerging catastrophe when they visited Papua New Guinea (PNG) from 27 October to 7 November. The current situation on Manus Island amounts to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, a violation of the UN Convention against Torture.

Kate Schuetze said:

“This is the third time I have visited Manus Island, but what we have witnessed over the past week has shocked me to the core. This is a desperate situation on the brink of a catastrophe. That the Australian and PNG authorities have created such a crisis, leaving vulnerable refugees who sought Australia’s protection in such a desperate situation is callous, cruel and completely disgraceful.

“There must be an immediate resolution to this crisis. Services must be restored, and the refugees must be supported at the centre until they can move to a place of safety and dignity.”

The men have refused to move to new locations because of violent attacks against them which the authorities have failed to prevent. Approximately 600 refugees and vulnerable men remaining in the detention centre have had limited access to food water and medical care since services were withdrawn on 31 October. Attempts to deliver food to the centre have been actively blocked by the PNG authorities.

Kate Schuetze said:

“Papua New Guinea is not an appropriate place to settle vulnerable people who have fled persecution and came seeking safety and Australia’s protection. The country does not have the systems in place to enable a safe and dignified life for the refugees, and local people have made it clear they want the men to go to Australia.”

Amnesty has long called for the Australian government to end offshore processing, bring the men to Australia, and fulfil its obligation under international law to process their refugee claims. This remains Australia’s responsibility. As Australia seems determined to ignore and show contempt for the law, Amnesty is now calling for other countries to resettle the men.

Kate Schuetze said:

“This flagrant breach of Australia’s legal and moral responsibility is unacceptable. As the government seems intent on reneging on all its international obligations, we now have to look to other countries to help take in the men, and offer them safety, dignity and a future.”

Australia must facilitate, and not obstruct, resettlement to third countries. New Zealand, for example, has repeatedly offered protection to refugees on Manus Island but been blocked by Australia.

Lives endangered

There is no medical care available to the men at the centre and it is not clear if any help will be forthcoming if there is a medical emergency. There is also deep concern that as people start to run out of medication, the situation will become more serious – possibly endangering lives of refugees. Many refugees are already suffering from chronic mental health issues as a result of their prolonged detention and uncertainty about their future.

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