NEWS

The Horror Conditions Facing Manus Refugees Right Now

Dehydration, starvation, no medicine, disease and heat

03/11/2017 2:03 PM AEDT | Updated 03/11/2017 9:37 PM AEDT
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The well bringing up dirty water, and makeshift beds placed outside to escape the stifling indoor heat

"The bodies are getting weak," Iranian refugee and journalist Behrouz Boochani said.

The peaceful standoff between hungry refugees in the Manus Island detention centre, and Papua New Guinean authorities waiting outside the gates, has entered its third day as the men inside dig wells for water, sleep outside due to the stifling heat inside, and fears of sickness and injury grow.

The centre, officially closed on October 31, still has around 600 refugees and asylum seekers inside. The men from countries like Sudan, Afghanistan, Iran and Syria are refusing to move from the centre to new accommodation in the nearby town of Lorengau.

The men cite prior violence from locals, including machete attacks and robberies and fear they will be subject to further danger if they leave the safety of the Lombrum facility.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees also reported at least one of the new facilities was unfinished, lacking water or power connections as of Monday, and said the other two facilities did not yet have security fences.

One man who accepted the offer to relocate to a new facility returned to Lombrum on Thursday, having walked three hours back on foot, saying he "could not stay in that place".

Inside the Lombrum centre, conditions are fast deteriorating. The last food packages were distributed over the weekend, while water and power connections have long since been cut off.

The men have rigged up tarpaulins and pipes to drain rainwater into garbage bins for storage while others have dug a deep well into the ground in attempts to find water. They were successful, but the water they draw from the well -- using a small plastic bucket and thin rope -- is dirty and cloudy.

Photos and stories from recent days, posted to Twitter by refugees and asylum seekers, show firsthand the conditions inside the centre.

"The water is not clean enough for people to drink but they are boiling it on a small fire so it can be used," Boochani told HuffPost Australia.

Many men in the centre slept out in the open air on Thursday night, unable to bear the stifling conditions inside the buildings which have been left without air conditioning after power was cut. While it is now too hot to stay inside, the men are also fearful of mosquitos and the infections they may carry.

Many of the men are afflicted with debilitating physical injuries and severe psychological conditions and their medicine has run out.

Some men hired a boat and travelled to Lorengau yesterday, bringing back amounts of food and painkillers.

A refugee told HuffPost Australia the men are surviving on one small meal a day, plus collected rainwater. Crowdfunding campaigns have popped up in Australia to raise money to buy food and water for the men.

"The problem is our resources. We have not much money," the refugee said.

"It's very risky for those groups who go and buy groceries. The boat owner [said] it's very risky for them to come round because navy might arrest them."

Refugees also claim the navy, which owns the Lombrum facility and have been positioned outside the gates of the centre as they wait to reclaim the centre, has blocked the entry of food into the centre.

Boochani said a local missionary had tried to bring packages into the facility on Thursday but was denied admission, while the missionary himself posted his claims on Facebook.

"The bodies are getting weak and people are developing physical problems," Boochani told HuffPost Australia.

"People are struggling with starvation, and at the same time don't feel safe in the centre or safe enough to go out because of previous bad experiences of being attacked. Many people are unable to sleep because of hunger and fear.

"It's really hard to describe the difficulty of the current situation."

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern reiterated her Government's offer to resettle up to 150 of the men in her country, an offer which has so far been rebuffed by Australia.

"What I'm understanding from talking with people is that they are not going to leave the prison camp. Also it's important to state they are saying they don't want to go to Australia," Boochani said.

"They are asking that Australia lets them go to a third country. They are so tired of Australia and don't want to hear any more from Australia."

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