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Manus Island Is A Human Rights Disaster Funded By Both Sides Of Politics And The Australian People

There is only one alternative.

12/09/2017 1:34 PM AEST | Updated 12/09/2017 3:52 PM AEST
Nick McKim
Nick McKim with Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish journalist detained on Manus Island.

I am in a taxi heading through Port Moresby to a motel in Boroko.

The driver, a local, is worried. He says this part of town is extremely dangerous.

I ask him if he would walk around here.

He laughs, and says he would be robbed and beaten, and that the same fate would befall me if I got out of the car.

We arrive at the motel and turn into the carpark past guards and a security gate.

I walk around the back of the compound to visit some of the men staying there. They are some of the over 800 people who sought asylum in Australia but have been left in limbo in PNG for nearly five years.

There is a heavy security presence and I'm told I can't go inside, and that the men would have to meet me in the carpark

When I first visited the motel just three months ago, there were less than 20 men here. Now there are more than 100.

They were brought here under the guise of "medical reasons", but receive scant medical attention when they arrive.

Every man I speak to is fearful of leaving the motel grounds.

Nick McKim meets Manus Island detainees

One man shows me a document telling him he will be transported to Australia for urgent knee surgery. The document is more than two years old.

He was sent to Port Moresby and told his knee would be operated on. It's yet to happen.

Another man has been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and cannot leave his bed, so he talks to me through the window to his room.

The next day, I fly to Manus Island. There are another 20 men at the airport awaiting transportation to Moresby. They've also been told they are being moved for medical reasons

Peter Dutton's plan to clear out Australia's Manus Island prison by any means is in full swing.

I have again been denied permission to inspect the facility, so some of the refugees have put aside their fears and come out of the centre to see me.

They tell me that basic human rights such as access to drinking water are being used to try to control movement within the centre.

They recount how education and health services are being withdrawn.

They tell me how more and more detainees are falling into despair and losing hope, and how the nights are full of screams and tears.

It's a human rights disaster, delivered by the Labor and Liberal parties in Australia and funded by the Australian people.

Manus Island itself is a beautiful place, starkly contrasting the acts of brutality which Government has committed and condoned over the past five years.

While most locals are decent and law abiding people, it remains an unsafe place for the refugees who Peter Dutton plans to abandon in less than 50 days.

The UNHCR has made this clear, and the ongoing spate of machete attacks which have left many refugees severely injured serve as regular and stark reminders.

The people of Papua New Guinea were not consulted when Labor reopened the detention centre in 2012, and neither Peter Dutton nor their own government has asked them what they think of his plan to abandon the men in his care there.

Papua New Guinea is ill-equipped to handle an influx of many hundreds of men, many of whom are traumatised by the persecution they have fled, their dangerous journeys and their physical and psychological abuse in detention.

Papua New Guinea Attorney-General Davis Steven has made it clear that the October 31 deadline was not mutually agreed, and that his government will not allow Australia to abandon the Manus men in Papua New Guinea.

Nonetheless, Dutton's bulldozers have started their work, and the people detained on Manus are being pushed to breaking point.

Most of them are too scared to leave the centre.

Nick McKim meets Manus Island detainees

Despite all the deprivations and torture they have suffered in detention – including witnessing murder, being fired upon by naval personnel, beaten and psychologically tormented – most feel safer there than they do on the streets of Lorengau or Port Moresby.

Even with the best of medical support, it will take years before the physical and mental wounds they have suffered can heal. Some never will.

Some refugees have decided to return to their countries of origin -- countries in which even Papua New Guinea's deeply flawed Refugee Status Determination process has found they have a well-founded fear of persecution.

Some men have been sent back under duress.

But the majority remain. For five weeks now they have held daily vigils inside their prison, peacefully protesting their treatment and looming abandonment.

Among them are gay men, whose sexuality makes them criminals in Papua New Guinea. They face lengthy jail terms - or worse - if they are caught.

On my last evening in Lorengau I am walking down the main road with one of the refugees. Two local men approach us aggressively, and when they come close I can smell alcohol on their breath.

They tell us we don't belong there and need to leave. We de-escalate the situation and move on, but the tension on Manus Island is palpable.

By setting an arbitrary deadline to close the detention centre, Peter Dutton has deliberately set up a looming showdown.

For all the despair and heartache, there is a better way.

Australia can start to undo some of the damage the Labor and Liberal parties have done.

We can close the detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru.

And we and bring every man, woman and child who has been detained to freedom and safety in Australia

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