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The despair that is Manus: How many more will die?

No one chooses to be a refugeeGARY JUFFA

I THOUGHT last night about widely reported recent events that occurred at the asylum centre in Manus: the loss of a life, injuries and destruction to property.

The destruction to property is of course nowhere near as important as the loss of a life or injuries sustained.

I pondered the plight of the people who were seeking refugee status, locked up in hot and humid conditions, unable to move about, controlled by hostile guards and with no freedom.

In this group there is a variety of people.

People who wanted to get out of their country to start a new life because where they lived had become untenable, hostile, dangerous or life threatening.

People who saw the passage to Australia as an opportunity to have access to peace, a job and new beginnings.

There are people who yearned for freedom and a better life with peace and security and freedom from persecution.

Many had spent all they had, risked their lives and that of their families, clutching hope and their meagre belongings with their children, spouses and perhaps savings.

And now a young man lies dead: a son, a brother, a friend, perhaps a father.

People everywhere are divided in such circumstances. There are those who will not sympathise and there are those who will and there are those who are indifferent.

Then there is the media: like morbid leeches they suck out as much as possible, reporting this event with much gusto and within seconds turning to cricket and the latest fashion and some household product.

I considered the “what ifs”.

What if Australia had not subcontracted its international responsibilities to Papua New Guinea?

What if Papua New Guinean had not collaborated in this heinous international breach of an agreement to receive and process those seeking a better life? An agreement signed by all nations subscribing to that international body they created supposedly to preserve and promote humanity, the so-called “United Nations”?

What if the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees was taken seriously by those who signed it and what if they actually abided by the terms they agreed to and demanded all nations regardless of affiliation abide by the terms and conditions?

What if wars, for whatever reason, were not begun by those with the power to do so and who imagine they are performing some great service to by taking up arms? What if?

And this tragedy is happening on this small Pacific island of Manus.

Manus is a tropical island where the fish is fresh and tasty when baked on a fire by the beach, where children’s laughter is heard in simple villages as they await the evening meal, where there is a cool breeze that blows on a warm tropical afternoons and you can hear the soothing waves caress the white sand as the sun eases into the horizon.

It was here that a young man lost his life. Shot to death. Blood flowing from burst arteries and veins until the heart ceased to beat and life itself disappeared.

Somewhere, people who know and love him are weeping.

Rage and anger, bitterness and despair, feelings of unjust treatment, growing depression and humiliation, locked in and stirred by an apparently uncaring world.

Some claim this asylum centre is sufficient. But to those deprived of freedom, it is hell. For the free, it is easy to imagine that meals, a bed and television are sufficient for people to be satisfied.

Meanwhile, the people of Manus, a peaceful and beautiful people, have struggled to understand this arrangement.

On the one hand, they are grateful for the benefits economic; on the other hand, they observe that the grim price paid by people who seek a better life is far too high. Their sense of humanity, sharing, freedom and consideration tugs at their heart.

If we all delve far enough into our histories, who we are and where we came from, and if for a moment we consider where it is we believe we are going, we may conclude that we are all refugees, seeking something better and ultimately peace.

I was thinking this last night.

I also thought of all the acts of injustice that people have to endure because they can do nothing else, such as in West Papua, another horrible situation ignored by the United nations.

How many have died and continue to die there in events that are never reported?

Eventually, I graduated from thinking to despair. 


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Peter Kranz

I'm surprised that no one has investigated the general manager of security for G4S in PNG.

You might be interested. Remember Google is your friend

Peter Kranz

There was a riot at the University of PNG in around 2004. It was pretty scary. There was a lock-down and Uniforce shut the campus. We were under curfew. But living at Fort Banner at the time this presented something of a problem. How do we do our shopping? (We were down to our last glass of milk and bar of Cherry Ripe for God's sake!)

Rose had a solution. She has a wantok (yes that's the way it goes) who was a manager in a security firm.

The phone was working, so there was a frantic phone call and hasty instructions, and 20 minutes later a heavily-armed Hilux roared into our driveway. They grabbed us, pushed us down into the floor of vehicle and roared out the entrance to Uni with guns at the ready.

I think Uniforce and the demonstrating students were rather confused.

Down the road opposite Waigani markets the armed guards let us up from the floor.

"You're out safely. Where do you need to take you? " ( Keeping a lookout for terrorists. They were probably thinking Australian or US Embassy, maybe Jacksons for an emergency airlift.)

"Stop and Shop" I said plaintively,

"We need some milk."

"What the f***?"

Then they started laughing.

And so we went to do our shopping under an armed escort, and bought them all a few SPs, and an international incident was averted.

No they weren't G4S.

Mrs Barbara Short

On hearing about life in PNG prisons on Saturday I was shocked to hear they were living on rice and tinned meat.

Why on earth haven't they developed good prison farms? Yes, why aren't these refugees allowed to fill in their time doing something constructive, such as growing some fruit and vegetables.

The NSW Correctional Services are very proud of all the trades that their prisoners can learn. The PNG Correctional Officers probably need some help so they can get their inmates doing something worthwhile with their time.

I have heard that many of the governors are great people but they need to be given money so the prisoners, some who have been given life sentences, are able to learn a trade and be productive.

The same goes for all these detention centres where these refugees wait until their application is processed.

More money and thought needs to go into what goes on in prisons in PNG. They could become places of education. At the moment the prisoners who do the CBI Bible studies are being awarded a certificate and they are able to use this certificate to get a job when they are released. They are not reoffending. I know that by doing these studies many are improving their ability at writing in English.

Harry Topham

One Sunday a long time ago whilst at Talasea I had a visit from the local police sergeant who advised me that all the prisoners at the local gaol had disappeared.

I immediately contacted the ADC and in company with him drove down to the calaboose.

The place was empty with the gates wide open.

Further enquiries with one of the off duty prison guards indicated that after some initial discussion amongst certain of the guards who felt sorry for the prisoners being cooped up they had decided to take them fishing by providing them with their canoes.

Looking out to sea we saw a small flotilla of canoes moored out on the outer edges of the neighbouring reef.

Although initially miffed by this brazen show of initiative, we both saw the humorous sides of things and told be guard present to go out and return the “ escapees”.

Thinking of the unpleasant situation on Manus. Got me to thinking.

Maybe just maybe some one involved in the administration of the detention centre at Manus should use their initiative and take the cooped out lads out for a bit of recreational fishing or even being perhaps a little bolder arrange for those interested to be billeted out to some of the local families over the weekends.

Certainly would go a long way to breaking down the suspicion amongst the locals and well as mending the bridges caused by the ostracism associated with the matter as after all those detainees are after all guests at Manus not prisoners of war.

Bit naive perhaps but sometimes common sense brings the best result.

Phil Fitzpatrick

I think the Americans had a hand in the tragedy that is West Papua, Chris. At the time they were bolstering the Indonesians because they saw them as a way of hindering the spread of communism.

The old 'yellow peril' syndrome. JFK was a significant player in this little plot. Australia was complicit too.

Many people believe that Howard went into East Timor because of the atrocities being committed by the Indonesians but events have proven that his main aim was in securing the oil and gas in the Timor Sea.

This is mainly why the Indonesian military don't like Australia; nothing to do with helping the Timorese. And then Downer chiselled them out of a fair share of the proceeds.

As seems to always be the case the poor people of West Papua were sacrificed for the political and economic games of the big players.

Later, their discovery and development of the Freeport copper and gold deposit gave them another reason for supporting the Indonesians. How many West Papuans died there one wonders.

Re the point made by Corney; he was pointing out that we would be hypocritical by highlighting violence in PNG and on Manus because similar things occur here.

Gary Juffa

Chris, well said. West Papua's vast natural resources, almost equivalent to that of PNG, will continue to ensure that the people of this portion of the island of New Guinea will have a long hard battle ahead.

I was amazed to hear the UN representative in PNG claim that they were "Asian". I pointed out that there were 3 million Pacific islanders in that part of the world which are not part of the "Pacific Plan" and how do we accept that?

Chris Overland

Exactly right Gary. West Papua was handed over to the Indonesians in the 1960's under a UN mandate, with the Dutch reluctantly relinquishing control to them.

Indonesia then held what can only be described as a fraudulent process of "self determination", whereby a small but supposedly representative group of indigenous people purportedly voted to become part of Indonesia. There was certainly no national plebiscite as was supposed to happen.

This blatant fraud could only be perpetrated because, at that time, the US and most of Europe were uninterested in what happened to an obscure former Dutch colony. It was the Cold War and there were more pressing issues to consider. Why irritate a rising South East Asian power that might be driven into the communist camp?

In my view, if the anti-colonial and so-called non-aligned nations of the 1960's and 1970's were right to criticise the Dutch, the Belgians, the French, the British and the Australians for not giving independence to their colonial territories, then we are perfectly entitled to make the same point today about the Indonesians in West Papua.

Make no mistake, Indonesia is a colonial power in West Papua and has no intention whatsoever of relinquishing that power.

However, history strongly suggests that a day of reckoning will come. When that may be, who can say. But until that day we should not hesitate to point out that Indonesia has no more historical, geographic, ethnic or cultural ties to West Papua than Australia had with PNG.

Gary Juffa

Chris, points to remember regarding the issue of West Papua, an issue that receives very little international attention either by media or governments.

Chris Overland

Irrespective of what you may think about the legality or wisdom of sending asylum seekers offshore for processing, I think that it is mistake to see such a policy as racially based.

While I agree that there is hardcore of people with racist beliefs in Australia, they do not have any real influence on public policy beyond encouraging politicians to pass more and more stringent laws aimed at marginalising racists still further than they already are.

The current government's policy is unapologetically about border control, first and foremost. It's primary aim is make it very clear that it can and will defend the borders with pretty much any action short of war. I believe that this action is aimed as much at the Indonesian Government as it is at people smugglers.

It is very clear that the flow of boats requires the overt or covert support of officials within the Indonesian Government. The trade could be shut done immediately if there was a will in Jakarta to do so. After all, they are letting a stream of people pass through their country knowing perfectly well that they are aiming to get to Australia.

I foresee many years of tension with Indonesia over this and other matters. There are significant figures in their army who will never forgive what they feel was their humiliation in East Timor.

Also, think of the potential problems that can and will arise over Irian Jaya, where an overwhelmingly Javanese migration has progressively displaced the indigenous population.

Eventually, it will dawn on the great and the good that Irian Jaya is no more a "natural" part of Indonesia than, say, PNG might be. When that happens, we can all look forward to exciting times indeed.

Phil Fitzpatrick

Corney has a good point Peter.

While most people in Australia are pretty laid back about other cultures, there is a solid core of racists in our midst, always has been. The escalating violence is another matter; it guess it has a lot to do with the increasing inequity between rich and poor.

If we are perfectly frank, the problems that PNGns have in getting visas to visit are racially based.

We also have a proclivity for criticising our near neighbours, often offered in the guise of well-intended advice. Our perceptions of society in PNG as being dysfunctional colours our attitude to letting people from there visit Australia.

Have you noticed that in the spate of articles about Manus in the press here Port Moresby's reputation as a violent city is bandied about as proof of conditions on Manus.

Manus is a nice place, safe as houses, bit hot and untidy but otherwise fine. I wouldn't like to be locked up in a concentration camp there however.

Corney Korokan Alone

Great news article, Peter. Interesting to read. Any concerns regarding the locals there is a different matter.

I have also had a chance to stumble upon articles like this that gives such impressions.

Some TV documentaries relating to challenges faced involving earlier refugees from Vietnamese decent formed some telling observations.

With such, sometimes I tend to wonder, how the multicultural sun-baked Australia fails to objectively assess people of all races - often my harmless people getting the brunt of it all when they want to visit family friends there.

Mrs Barbara Short

I was thinking the other day, when I read about the state of the small Manus prison, that the people of Australia will want to come over there to "fix up" the PNG prisons. In one way that is already happening.

Yesterday I heard all about what Crossroad Bible Institute lessons are doing in the main prisons in PNG. If you get a chance go visit one of the main prisons and ask them to explain the change that CBI is making.

For the past four years I have been part of CBI and we all just thank God for the way He has been using us and helping PNG.

Gary Juffa

...Thanks all for your views and contributions and reactions to my thoughts....I still believe that Australia has erred in subcontracting its international obligations...and PNG's government is saying for a price, we can is indeed the way of today's world...where everything and anything, be it a product or a service, is monetized, offered for sale for a price...

Peter Kranz

Corney - most gun violence in Sydney is occurring a lot further west than Redfern and seems to be mostly related to drug gangs' turf wars (not indigenous relations).

Whilst Redfern has had its problems, it is undergoing something of a rebirth.

'Redfern Now' is a pretty good TV series.

Corney Korokan Alone

Good points, Chris.

I am seeing integration a real issue that the Aussie government has to contend with. That fear will translate to more controversial decisions like this irrespective of international commitments like the UN Convention on Human Rights.Priority on national security renders humanitarian commitments to the back seat.

The instances of gun violence in the surburb of Redfern in Sydney is an example and testament of this fear.

Paul Oates

In our pluralistic society it is good and healthy to have a broad range of views. It seems like no matter what one’s views about this subject are however, by selectively viewing only the parts of the problem that support your perspective will always make sure that you substantiate your views. Is this therefore ‘situating the appreciation’?

Could possible ‘cherry picking’ only continue to perpetuate a circular argument without ever achieving a solution to an obvious problem? Well that again depends on what one sees as the problem doesn’t it? Is the glass half full or half empty?

On an emotional side, any preventable suffering and loss of life should be deplored and be spoken out against. Yet by so doing, could those who are speaking out possibly be helping to perpetuate the self same suffering and loss of life they deplore?

Are the British wrong for trying to stop the deaths of illegal immigrants on trains going through the ‘Chunnel’ from France? Are the Italians wrong for trying to stop the boatloads of African illegal immigrants sailing from Africa even though there has been significant loss of life? Are the Americans wrong for trying to stop the Mexicans from crossing their border even though there has clearly been loss of life?

Does the problem go far deeper and extend all the way through to everyone who actually supports those who are demanding a better life, prepared to risk their current life and that of their family in the hope they can achieve their dream? To forget about any issue but the part of the problem that supports your own perspective could unfortunately, through the very best of intentions, help substantiate the very loss of life you are speaking out against?

Does the end justify the means? Again, that depends on your perspective.

In the case of Manus, what seems to be the story currently coming out of Manus is that those inside the compound were advised that they could apply to emigrate to PNG but not Australia. Australia had never said it was OK to come here by boat. This apparently made some of them so upset that they started hurling abuse and then stones at the PNG people outside the compound. Apparently this led to a confrontation that escalated into a riot. A riot on PNG soil is subject to PNG laws, not Australian laws.

The people who clearly paid to get a chance to either jump the queue of those who couldn’t or wouldn’t pay the people smugglers naturally now want their money’s worth. Whose fault is that? They still want to beat the authorities at Australian airports. If these people merely wanted to move to another more friendly country, surely the offer of a PNG life might seem like a genuine better life if the conditions at home were that bad? Clearly that is not the case nor did it also apply to all the other countries that these people travelled through to get to their desired objective but did not stop and ask to stay as refugees.

What is happening however is that those who have been and still are currently profiting from those who are prepared to pay are being unfortunately helped by those who only see the part of the problem that supports their own point of view. Solutions are always so much harder to effect when it comes to saying ‘No!’

Just look every day at a child and their exasperated mother at the supermarket checkout going past the inevitable array of junk food and lollies.

Chris Overland

Peter, I think your observation is quite correct from a legal standpoint. However, this debate rages around what is deemed moral and just, not what is lawful.

This is why the previous government copped the blame for events over which it had no practical control, much less legal responsibility.

Such is the court of public and media opinion, where this whole matter will play out.

Peter Kranz

Chris - good points, but I take issue with one of them.

The "1,000 deaths" under the previous government's policy were not caused directly by Australia or even by proxy.

Australia had no duty of care as they had not been taken under the control of Australian agencies at the time of the deaths.

It's a bit like blaming Australia for the death of an asylum seeker involved in a car crash in Lebanon at the start of their long journey to freedom.

My step-Auntie's two children died of smallpox on a ship escaping the Baltic on their way to England in 1946. They were 'displaced persons', i.e. refugees. Are we to lay the blame for this with the UK?

But the Manus detainees are under the direct control, management and care of Australian authorities. So at least legally if not morally, the two are completely different.

Chris Overland

As a consequence of a riot initiated by some of the young men who are presently being kept at the Manus Island Centre, one person is dead and many have been injured.

Refugee advocates see this event as a natural and inevitable outcome of an unjust and inhumane policy approach. Those who favour a very robust border protection policy see it as a regrettable incident which neatly illustrates just why such a hard line approach is required. All sides see the "facts" (in so far as anyone knows them) as supporting their position.

It remains unclear just exactly what happened but, hopefully, the two separate inquiries launched by the Australian and PNG governments respectively, will throw some much needed light on the matter.

What is clear is that this is the first death that can plausibly be attributed to the current government's hard line approach. In this context, it is noteworthy that the great bulk of the approximately 1,000 asylum seeker deaths that have been recorded since 2001 occurred when the previous government was pursuing what many people felt was a much more just and humane policy approach.

In the meantime, Australia continues to grant permanent residency to between 13,000 and 14,000 asylum seekers per year, just as it has done every year since 2004. The bulk of these people have been brought out of the refugee camps in Malaysia and Africa.

Total immigration to Australia remains at historically high levels. Over 1.2 million arrived between 2000 and 2010.

In 2012/13 net immigration exceeded 150,000. Of these people 17.7% came from New Zealand, 12.1% from India, 11.8% from China and 7.7% from the UK.

Australia remains a multicultural country, with the current population trajectory destined to lead to a progressive dilution of its historic 'Anglo' nature.

The above information is intended to provide some factual context for discussion around what is happening at Manus and elsewhere.

Peter Kranz

I hope you don't mind Mr Juffa, but I have reposted this article to several Australian web sites.

Gary Juffa is the conscience of us all.

Lorraine Koraha

Great article summing up what's happening in the asylum seekers' camps, Gary.

It's at an appalling rate the issues arising in our country which is introduced and/or brought in by the current O'Neill & Abbott Governments knowing what the consequences would be.

Maureen Wari

Thank you good Governor for your reflections which I have no doubt a million other PNGns have been thinking about since the yes was given for the refugees to be held temporarily in Manus and now the worst has happened.

A death has occurred on PNG soil. What was Australia's responsibility has now tainted our name because we agreed to carry a burden that we had little or no means to carry.

What if this decission to keep the refugees on Manus had been properly debated on the floor of parliament?
What if the advantages and disadvantages of this decission to PNG were clearly discussed before the yes?

We could have been made aware of the possible repercussions.
Now what was a probably a simple question needing answers has led to the inevitable.

I worry about those countrymen who live outside of PNG. Wokabaut blo ol bai i orait or?

I think I have graduated from despair to depressed!

Alex Demchenko

Gary, Thanks for sharif your heartfelt despair with us. Its sad for sure, what has happened. The only thing that can be dome now, is for outspoken politicians, such as yourself , to push and push hard. voice your opinions and desired outcomes loud, so that the necessary changes may come. In a recent Facebook survey, you rated extremely high, in a poll, where the question was, Who is best suited for the next PM of PNG. Gary, people are with you,.stand up and be noticed!

Phil Fitzpatrick

An excellent article Gary. I admire your empathy.

It seems that Australia's definition of refugee is someone who is in danger of being killed or imprisoned. Living in dire poverty without medical aid and the constant threat of violence doesn't seem to rate.

Australia is rapidly becoming an ugly country. It's a shame that PNG is helping it.

I must also admit Robin's ingenuity in linking it to his grand passion about the conspiracy of globalisation. I'm not sure that invoking Marxist theory to support it is a good idea though.

Robin Lillicrapp

I don't think you are wrong to think that, Gary.

In a manner of speaking though, the strife and trauma emanating from the various applications of corrupt practises; eg, fake drugs, SABL's et al, is of far greater importance to PNG.

The dialectic ramping up of tension re the refugee problems (crisis, counter-crisis, solution) is designed to push public opinion in the direction of "one World" aspiration by global-planners.

The end game is for citizens like you and me to roll over and accept a border-less global village: no land rights, no constitution, no sovereignty, in fact, a collectivist paradigm.

The reality of the Manus situation pushing the National issues off stage is an insult to the gravity of those issues.

Mrs Barbara Short

Than you Gary for that very honest piece of writing, summing up the agony and sorrow of what is happening on Manus.

Let us hope that our respective governments will spend time together to work out a solution to these problems.

I thought placing these refugees on Manus was a very stupid idea in the first place but now the problem must be solved. Over to O'Neill and Abbott and their governments.

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