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Sixth Manus death signals system in chaos as Oz exit looms

Rajeev Rajendran
Rajeev Rajendran - his suicide "speaks volumes about inadequacy of Manus health services"

MICHAEL KOZIOL | Fairfax Media

CANBERRA - The sixth asylum seeker to die on Manus Island under Australia's watch registered barely a ripple.

Rajeev Rajendran, a Tamil refugee who fled Sri Lanka, died in the early hours of Monday last week, apparently by suicide.

Police in Papua New Guinea confirmed details of the death, but it went unremarked upon by the Australian government, which retains it is a matter for PNG.

The case is unpleasant and murky, and highlights several important points of dispute about the plight of refugees on Manus Island and what they face when Australia leaves the island at the end of this month.

Rajendran, who experienced mental illness, was charged with raping a minor earlier this year in the township of Lorengau. He was released on bail and awaited trial, but it was a charge likely to rule him out of consideration for resettlement in the US.

The rape charge was also at the centre of escalating unrest between townsfolk and the asylum seekers on Manus Island. In part, it is what Dutton referred to in April when he said there was an "elevated mood" on the island and controversially suggested a riot at the processing centre was linked to community fears about the safety of a five-year-old boy.

"There was a ramping up of the tension on the ground. We have seen allegations and charges in relation to a number of sexual assaults," Dutton said.

From the refugees' point of view, the Rajendran case feeds into fears for their own safety in the Lorengau community.

For months, PNG authorities have tried to coerce men out of the regional process centre – which is due to close by 31 October – and into the East Lorengau Refugee Transit Centre.

Many refugees have refused to move, preferring the safety of the RPC, which is away from the township on a Navy base.

On Friday night, asylum seekers received another notice about the impending shutdown. Documents shown to Fairfax Media reveal another form of accommodation, called the West Lorengau Haus, has been made available for refugees.

Those who move there will be housed in dorms and receive "a living allowance to cover food, clothing and some personal expenses".

According to Behrouz Boochani, an Iranian refugee and journalist on Manus, PNG authorities plan to accommodate 241 people at the Haus, as well as 232 people at the ELRTC and 148 rejected asylum seekers at a location called Hillside House. The transfers are to occur before 27 October.

Boochani said the refugees were "determined to resist" the move to Lorengau "because it is not a safe place for them". "There will definitely be more conflict between refugees and local people if the government presses ahead with this plan," he said.

Rajendran's death also speaks volumes about the adequacy of health services on the island. According to PNG police, he first attempted suicide on a Friday night and was admitted to Lorengau Hospital. He was found hanging in the hospital on Monday while notionally under its care.

It's a danger that doctors on the island are aware of. "I've said to them, 'this is going to happen, more of this will happen'," one doctor, who works for contractor International Health and Medical Services, told a refugee this week. "They're not telling you what's happening, so people get a build-up of despair."

The Australian Labor Party has requested a briefing from Dutton about the circumstances leading up to Rajendran's death. Shadow immigration minister Shayne Neumann offered his condolences to the man's family and friends, and said it would be inappropriate to comment further.

The inadequacy of the PNG health system is what awaits the sick men on Manus once IHMS leaves on 31 October. Dutton has said arrangements will be announced in due course, while the aforementioned doctor promised his patient "a full medical handover to whoever takes over".

But, he joked, "it's entirely possible that I'll just be wearing a different-coloured shirt and working for a different company".

Michael Koziol is the immigration and legal affairs reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based in Parliament House


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Peter Kranz

Australia’s castigation before the UN has continued for a second day, with the human rights committee condemning Western Australia’s practice of jailing fine defaulters, and specifically highlighting the death of Indigenous woman Ms Dhu in custody.

Australia is currently before the committee for the periodic review of its human rights record, and the issues of Indigenous incarceration and asylum policy again dominated committee criticisms.

On a second day of questioning, Prof Yuval Shany focused on the indefinite mandatory detention of asylum seekers and refugees in harmful conditions.

“We are not questioning Australia’s right to exercise border control … we are concerned with two elements, one is the issue of non-refoulement [returning a person to danger] … and the second is the treatment of these migrants who are seeking asylum while present in Australian jurisdiction, in particular with their right not to be arbitrarily deprived of their liberty.”

He said Australia had contorted its asylum protection policy to one focused on deterrence. Harsh detention conditions “rising to the level of cruel treatment”, unjustified use of physical force, handcuffing of asylum seekers, appeared unreasonable actions.

“The question is: how does the state justify treating migrants as criminals?”

Committee member Prof Sarah Cleveland described Operation Sovereign Borders and Australia’s offshore processing of asylum seekers as “shocking”.

“I find the legal regime in place quite shocking for this state, particularly for a state that holds itself as broadly human rights compliant,” she said.

“It’s very disturbing both from the perspective of respect international law and humane protection of persons and from the model it suggests for other states.”


Peter Kranz

The healthcare provider for Australia’s offshore processing regime, International Health and Medical Services has been contracted by the Papua New Guinean government to stay beyond the closure of the Manus Island detention centre at the end of the month.

Under the recently signed contract IHMS will continue providing healthcare to refugees – who are expected to settle in the PNG community – and non-refugees in Lorengau and in Port Moresby, but it is not known how long for.

PNG’s general healthcare system is in crisis, with reported shortages of medication across multiple regions, including Manus province.

“Medical care will continue to cover mental health services and will transition clients on to a PNG formulary, where it is considered clinically safe to do so,” an IHMS spokeswoman told Guardian Australia.

“Of course, with closure of the Manus RPC [regional processing centre], services can no longer be provided at that location.”

The spokeswoman said as a result detainees were being assisted to “self-manage” their medications during the transition to having to access services in the community or in Port Moresby.


Peter Kranz

Thousands of asylum seekers in Australia will now require permission from Immigration Minister Peter Dutton's department if they want to get a pet.

Leaked guidelines issued by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection reveal all asylum seekers receiving taxpayer support must obtain the department's approval before buying a household animal.


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