RESPONDING to a notice issued by Papua New Guinea (PNG) authorities on Thursday morning at the Lombrum refugee detention centre on Manus Island stating that refugees must leave the centre by 11 November or be forcibly removed, Amnesty International said:
‘It is imperative that the PNG and Australian authorities immediately allow aid into the camp, and that they do not respond to the worsening conditions in the Lombrum detention centre by attempting to forcibly move the refugees to other locations.
‘Any use of force in this highly charged environment is likely to lead to serious injury or loss of life.
‘Amnesty International researchers have just returned from Manus Island where they witnessed first-hand the shocking conditions at the centre.’
Kate Schuetze, Amnesty International’s Pacific Researcher said: ‘This is a man-made crisis. It is the Australian and PNG governments who have left the men without food, clean water, proper sanitation or electricity.
‘They cannot, having created the situation, now compound it by sending in security forces to force the refugees to move. There is a solution to what we are seeing inside the camp – immediately allow humanitarian assistance in to restore access to food, water, electricity and health care. This is the only option that would be compatible with international human rights law at this point.’
Amnesty International has long called for the camp on Manus Island to be closed and the refugees brought to safety in Australia. What has happened is closure of one camp, and opening another, in a location where the refugees would be even less safe.
The approximately 600 men in Lombrum have been forced to choose between fundamental necessities of survival or a move to a place where they face the risk of violent attacks from some elements of the local population and years more in detention-like conditions. With all services cut off the situation has, predictably, deteriorated badly in the camp.
Unless services are restored people will become ill and deaths are a real possibility. Already several refugees have been taken ill in the deplorable conditions at Lombrum. At the weekend (4/5 November) one man with a heart condition collapsed and medical aid took several hours to arrive. Amnesty International is concerned that the authorities will use the shocking footage as a pretext to send in security forces and forcibly move the refugees to new locations.
Kate Schuetze said: ‘We are putting the governments of PNG and Australia on notice: using force will almost inevitably lead to serious human rights violations. The consequences of any such decision are foreseeable and it would be a grave matter if the authorities took any action that could result in serious injury or deaths. There is a clear, alternative, course of action. Services must be restored until a safe and dignified solution to the situation is agreed, one that respects the rights of the refugees.’
The decision by PNG and Australia to cut off all services at Lombrum appears to have been calculated to force the refugees to move to new locations. However, the refugees have told Amnesty International they are determined not to move because they fear for their safety in the new sites. Amnesty International’s research confirms their fears are well-founded.
Refugees have been attacked and seriously injured by some members of the local population who have made clear they do not want the men on PNG. Refugees have little or no protection from these attacks except to live inside detention centres.
Said Kate Schuetze: ‘Deliberately denying refugees food and water in a context where they cannot support themselves in order to coerce them to move is a serious violation of their human rights. This is cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Australia could also end the crisis by immediately bringing the refugees and vulnerable men to Australia, where they first sought protection.’
• The Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) has pledged its full support to efforts by Indigenous Australians to seek the creation of a constitutionally-enshrined representative body providing a direct parliamentary voice for First Nations people.
CFMEU National Secretary Michael O’Connor said members of the union were appalled by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s decision to reject outright the recommendation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart to create a constitutional voice for First Nations people.
O’Connor said: ‘We are shocked and appalled by the extraordinary lack of leadership shown by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull with his off-hand rejection of the legitimate aspirations of First Nation Australians.
‘This government’s preference for tokenism over self-determination is heartbreaking not only for First Nations peoples, but for all Australians. Despite overwhelming international evidence that health, education, employment and social outcomes for First Nations people are vastly improved when those communities have direct political input, Mr Turnbull has once again decided to put the fringe views of the extreme elements of his party ahead of good policy.
‘Mr Turnbull’s flimsy claim that his view is justified because a representative body of First Nation Australians would subvert the Parliament of Australia is simply not supported by the facts. Instead, the Prime Minister wants to continue the devastating, costly, and ineffective approach of having governments impose their will on Indigenous people.’
O’Connor slammed the fact that the Prime Minister had found $122 million to hold a postal survey on same sex marriage yet claimed there was no need for a referendum on the creation of an Indigenous representative body because he already knew the views of Australians. The CFMEU national secretary said: ‘Despite countless opinion polls revealing most Australians supported same sex marriage, Malcolm Turnbull demanded a costly postal survey, yet when a serious proposal is put forward by the Indigenous people of this nation he has the staggering arrogance to reject it out of hand.
‘The CFMEU fully endorses the recommendations of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, including the key recommendation for an assembly of First Nations people, and we will be supporting the efforts of First Nations people to have this vital reform taken to a referendum.
‘Our union not only has a large number of Indigenous members, but we have a long and proud history of supporting the struggles of First Nation Australians for justice and constitutional recognition.
‘We will not waver in our support for our Indigenous members and for all First Nation Australians, including their campaign to have political representation guaranteed by the constitution.’