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The festering wounds of Manus and Nauru

Giorgio Licini
Fr Giorgio Licini - "It is outrageous what is being done to refugees in Manus, Port Moresby and Nauru"


PORT MORESBY – Yesterday was World Migrant and Refugee Day and a message from Pope Francis to mark the day was particularly meaningful for our part of the world.

The words of the Pope help uncover a sense of truth about what has been going on for the past six years in Nauru and Manus.

“Migrants, refugees, displaced persons and victims of trafficking have become emblems of exclusion,” he said.

“In addition to the hardships that their condition entails, they are often looked down upon and considered the source of all society’s ills.

“That attitude is an alarm bell warning of the moral decline we will face if we continue to give ground to the throw-away culture.”

So let me mention here some critical language and facts associated with the festering wounds of Nauru and Manus.

Regional Processing

Not a bad idea in itself, but not credible. New Zealand, New Caledonia and possibly Fiji are not involved, only the very remote, hot and mosquito-infested islands of Nauru and Manus.

Besides that, nobody knows what the agreements for ‘regional processing’ in these two countries include in terms of the duties and conditions of the contracting parties.

It is probably not a ‘regional processing’ exercise, but a punitive measure against less fortunate individuals made unwelcome by the better off white tribes of the continent, more precisely of Australia.

Health Care

A few countries in the world have a high standard of health care and others have an acceptable standard. But Nauru and Papua New Guinea fall within the majority of countries that, in spite of all the goodwill, still can’t ensure proper care for their citizens.

These countries tend to have few doctors, scarcity of medicines, lack of equipment and lack of facilities.

Thousands of people die in PNG every year from curable diseases despite everybody’s efforts. Trying to push the idea that asylum seekers and refugees in PNG have proper health care is laughable and irritating.

It denotes outright ignorance or an offensive insincerity towards operators on the ground. Governments know that adequate health care is not being achieved even by local private hospitals.

Mental Health

It is outrageous what is being done in Manus, Port Moresby and Nauru by actively inducing mental health issues into young and vulnerable people.

People are driven into anxiety, depression and, in a number of cases, permanent insanity by the unexpected turn their lives have taken, the traumas they experienced at home, indefinite detention, tough conditions of life in the camps and the distance from their families.

The medication offered is cosmetic. It makes no sense to spend about $A1,400 per person per day in off-shore detention with the outcome of ruined human beings.

Medevac Law

This Australian legislation allows for medical transfer to mainland Australia of asylum seekers and refugees requiring medical care outside Nauru and PNG. It was passed narrowly – and against the government’s wishes - by the Australian parliament in February this year.

The legislation covers the 90% of offshore refugees whose conditions have remained unattended for many years. Given the new composition of the Australian government since the May election, refugees still in PNG and Nauru, and the Samaritans who care for them, now live in terror that the provision may be repealed with the support of a handful of Australian senators in exchange for electoral favours.

This would be another instance of the detainees in Nauru and Port Moresby falling prey to money and de facto human trafficking.

Stopping the Boats

I am someone who believes nobody should board a people smuggler’s boat, although occasionally, and in very dire circumstances, it may be the only way to escape death. The international community should establish procedures that put human smugglers out of job. But it is not being done, and that’s why those individuals still exist and are probably growing in number and power.

The Nauru and Manus asylum seekers and refugees have served the purpose of stopping the boats at high personal cost; 12 having so far paid with their lives. It’s time to say that they have been used (and abused) enough for very highly questionable deterrence proposes. Why still pick on them?

Settle in PNG

All of us in PNG rejoice when somebody decides to make this beautiful country home. On 14th September this year, two days ahead of the 44th Independence Day, 29 foreigners took PNG citizenship. This did not include the West Papuan refugees to whom the PNG government grants passport by a separate pathway. Some of the Manus refugees intend to remain in PNG. They have found a job and even created a family here. Somehow they feel at home, and that is good news.

With the current trend of increased international mobility and human displacement, it is becoming more necessary that all countries, rich and poor, accept their share of refugees. PNG has done this for decades with West Papuans, at least offering protection if not proper resettlement. Many live in slums and their health and education services are those of all local citizens.

It is particularly hard, however, for the Manus refugees to accept settling in PNG, not only because of the gap with their expectations but also due to the treatment they received at the hands of the organisers of the offshore processing exercise.

Upon arrival in Lombrum on Manus in 2013 they were convinced by foreign security personnel that the local people were anthropophagites [cannibals], while the people of Manus were told that the asylum seekers at were terrorists. And what followed was mutual suspicion, distrust and hostility.

Asylum Seekers

The fate of those people who will be unable to leave Nauru and PNG either through the United States agreement or the medical pathway is of concern. Among them will be a number of refugees, but also asylum seekers.

The remaining asylum seekers are individuals who refuse to submit their case for assessment or who, despite not being legitimate refugees, did not dare to return home. About 80 of these people remain in PNG, most of them Iranians of whom a large number are Christian converts. Technically they are asylum seekers but de facto refugees.

Since 12 August this year, 53 of these men have been detained at the new Bomana immigration facility on the outskirts of Port Moresby under heavy security and in total isolation. The purpose of this decision has not being convincingly explained. They never willingly crossed PNG’s borders. Their detention is certainly the work of the Australia’s Home Affairs Department.

Manus and Nauru were established for people who attempted to reach Australia by boat. The last boat arrived in December 2013. Bearly six years later there is still somebody in Canberra who believes that so-called offshore processing centres on remote tropical islands are necessary to discourage the boats.

But it now seems to be an unsustainable pretext to hide large scale human rights violation that history will not forget. The excuse is wearing thinner and thinner. Those officials may in time  be called to answer for what has happened, along with those who kept silent.

Surveys show that the majority of Australians do not agree with what is being done while many others are unaware of what is really going on in their name.


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Philip Fitzpatrick

I've never been to Nauru but I've spent time on Manus and the adjacent islands in the province and I can attest to the fact that it is an absolutely beautiful place.

It is certainly not hot and mosquito infested.

The only thing that mars Manus is Australia's concentration camp.

William Dunlop

I omitted to mention the proliferation of good cheap seafood, Particularly Cray's readily available in Manus's Island Paradise.

Arthur Williams

Keith - In the Convention on Refugees Article 31, page 29 their illegality is stated both in the official heading namely 'Refugees unlawfully in the country of refugee' and then in Section 1: 'The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their Illegal Entry or presence on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.'

In practice nations accept the proviso at the end of Sect.1 the bit saying 'without delay and and show..........' That is they do not charge the refugee with criminal offence.

Arthur – It is clear this article refers to refugees who are unlawful, that is those arriving through the use of false or falsified documents, the use of other deception etc or who do not comply with the edict to present themselves without delay. Read more here https://www.unhcr.org/3bcfdf164.pdf

Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution." Asylum seekers are entitled to non-refoulement as a fundamental principle of international law that forbids a country from returning them to a country in which they would be in likely danger of persecution.

Australia is a party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, which defines a refugee as a person who has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. The primary obligation under the Convention is that of non-refoulement.

Seeking asylum is not illegal - KJ

William Dunlop

Arthur - Well-spoken. Thank you on behalf of my family and my fellow new Australians - legal immigrants to our new country of choice, Australia.

And commiserations on the basket case that the UK has descended into.

Once again - there is nothing illegal about being an asylum seeker - KJ

Arthur Williams

Fr Giorgio Licini has written a good analysis for the annual UN Migrant and Refugee Day about the Oz asylum seeker camps on Manus and Nauru.

I smiled when he writes, ‘..very hot, remote and mosquito infested….’

Many asylum seekers on Manus are natives of Afghanistan or Iraq where the temperature can reach 35C or above. As for distance; Kabul to Singapore is 5,154 km and Singapore is 3,357 km to Darwin; Syria is almost 12,000km; while Manus to Darwin is only 2,010 km.

There are travel warnings for visitors to those nations from several travel web-pages to immunise against: Cholera, Yellow Fever, Hepatitis-A and type B; Rabies, Tetanus, Typhoid & Polio. Anti-malarial tablets are needed as there is a chloroquine resistant strain in both countries.

Manus by comparison is less of a health risk and there is adequate rainfall for person cleanliness too. Despite being near the Equator being an island Manus temperatures show a year round range from 22- 30C.

So we should be asking what makes Abdul sit down in his arid remote village in Afghanistan. Is it because despite being an Islamic republic with many fanatical believers in the 5 Pillars of Islam Wikipedia says it has high levels of terrorism, poverty, child malnutrition, and corruption.

We also know that since the USA/UK led 2001 invasion sudden death continues to be a far too common aspect of daily life. Perhaps it is partially from a guilt complex that the USA eventually has received 500 refugees from the Pacific camps while others are still in the USA vetting system with hopefully an undisclosed number possibly going to Canada. Another 800 detainees from Manus have already been repatriated with financial assistance as well as airfares.

In 2010 Australia had liaised with Malaysia to take 800 detainees and in return would accept 4000 already certified genuine asylum seekers from Malaysia into Oz. Sadly in Sept. 2011 the High Court of Australia had ruled this would be a breach of Human Rights. Why was that? Because the Islamic nation had not signed the UN Convention on Refugees. So a sensible humanitarian solution to the boat people crisis had to be scrapped.

That failure to sign the Convention was the reason why Australia could get no help from the World’s largest Islamic nation and its neighbour of Indonesia. I had wondered why Abdul and his religious brothers had possibly paid over $5000 only to sail past PNG’s neighbour trying to get to Darwin etc. Despite their non-ratification Indonesia still has accumulated 15,000 refugees now living in limbo unable to travel any further and existing often in poor conditions. It even has an unknown number living rough on the streets.

Under the Republic’s law the refugees’ status means they are unable to work to support themselves. The UNHCR cannot provide enough cash for them so that some NGOs are trying their best to assist them such as the Benang Sewing Project, Art for Refuge, Indonesia for Refugees and The Learning Farm.

These initiatives are trying to provide training for the impoverished refugees to develop livelihood skills in cuisine, art, soap making, sewing and organic farming.
The same non-signing of the Convention also affects Pakistan but there too that hasn’t stopped over 2.5 million Afghani refugees squatting on their neighbours land. Of that number one million are unregistered and so their children cannot attend state schools, parent cannot not work, buy land or even access healthcare.

In 2019 Kabul and other towns have been experiencing a much heightened level of terror so that the number fleeing must surely increase again after an optimistic 50000 had previously voluntarily returned to the unhappy land.

Bangladesh, once East Pakistan, like it co-religionists has not signed the Convention but has been inundated by the massive Rohingya crisis that has almost overwhelmed it. For this reason On 16 March 2018, the UN and its partners launched a Joint Response Plan seeking US$951 million to continue delivering often lifesaving assistance to the 742000 known refugees for the remainder of that year. Many are housed in camps in the cyclone prone Cox’s Bazaar region of the Bay of Bengal.

So it is simplistic to ask, ‘What are the Christians of all sects denominations doing about the problem? The best question should be, ‘What am I doing about it?’ This arc of Islamic nations north of Australia together with Hindu India also refusing to sign the UN Convention is perhaps the major reasons for the Oz government deciding to prevent any refugee boat from reaching its northern shores.

At its peak in 2013 over 400 boats dangerously attempted to reach that goal. Knowing that this century there had been atleast 1900 known drownings as the Boat People desperately sought a better life and paid smugglers to try and transport them to Australia the Pacific Solution was restarted. The number of Boats has fallen dramatically to just one. From the Government viewpoint its policy had worked.

The exact monetary cost of this exercise is not readily available. In fact we seem to know more about the effect on the humans involved in the Pacific Solution. The number of refugee suicides is claimed to be 12 but this could be offset by the incalculable number of drownings that have been avoided by apparently no boats having causing deaths in Australian or PNG waters. Of course we shall never know what horrible events may have happened on the far longer ocean voyages from the Arabian Basin coasts to the Arafura Sea.

It is easy for observers elsewhere in the world to view Australia’s ‘Stop the Boat People’ exercise to be a post 20th century return to a White Australia policy. Indeed I was just one family unit of the one million white British who arrived in West Australia as a so-called £10 POM.

However the racial multicultural mix shown in the last census is quite revealing: Total Australian-born 17,650,000 with the Total of foreign-born at 7,341,910. British born residents are almost a million followed by China 651000 followed by India & NZ at about 600000 each.

So those figures beg the question why worry about a few thousand caught up in the Pacific Solution. Is it merely a red-flag deterrent to would be voyagers not to use the illegal route to get in? After all how do non-English rural people like Abdul know the backdoor route to Australia? Is it illegal organised crime rings actively canvassing him because visa facilities have been stopped for Afghan peoples and its Asian neighbours. Is that why he is still tempted by the illegal marine route? It surely is not an unsurmountable problem for Australia when one reads the UNHCR claims that in 2017 there were almost 66 million people forcibly displaced worldwide because of persecution, conflict, violence, or human rights violations alone.

As supporters of the rule of law most of us would prefer to see all refugees use the legal means of entry to the nation of their choice. I did and it took four months to be approved despite my having a professional position waiting for me. The actual driving force behind illegal entry is not straight forward bureaucracy as mine. It could be any of those reason stated above by the UNHCR but that list failed to mention the major reason is often none of those but a voluntary personal economic factor for a subsistence family wanting to have a better safer, healthier life for the next generation.

Go West was once a slogan. Today it can be South, East or North. The task is for an ethical, equal system of managed immigration for all. Blogger Julie P wrote, 'and when you look at our family trees we are all boat people!'

Being an asylum seeker is not illegal - KJ

Marilyn Beech

Thank you for your kindness and friendship to the innocent, abused asylum seekers who were trafficked to Manus.

Thank you for continuing to stand up for them, as Australia's unpardonable abuse of human rights continues. This is cruelty and wickedness that will stain Australia's name forever.

Patricia Grey

Thankyou to Fr Licini for this clear description of what is being done to the asylum seekers and refugees in PNG, Manus and Nauru by the Australian government. The citizens of PNG are themselves struggling with lack of money and very limited services , yet have had this cruel situation forced upon them. I along with many Australians pray that this torture of helpless refugees and asylum seekers ceases immediately and that those responsible at all levels, from the Prime Minister down , are held to account and punished.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Scott Morrison sure has given Christianity a bad name.

David Kitchnoge

When will Australia address the elephant in the room and free all of us from this bondage?

This issue is essentially an Indonesian problem. It is the Indonesian people smugglers that need to be stopped. There, I said it. Now go to Indonesia and stop them there.

I support Prime Minister Marape's drive to shut down all asylum facilities in PNG and get out of this disgusting Australian agenda. We have been dragged through the mud because Australia continues to pussy foot around Indonesia on major human rights issues. West Papua for one and this asylum thing another.

PNG must not be a willing participant in Australia’s girlish stance towards Indonesian oppression of human beings.

Gabrielle Rose

Where are the Australian religious organisations? Where are the Pentecostal religions? They are leaving the heavy lifting to the PNG Catholics. What sort of Christians do that?

Pat Rayner | Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group

Excellent article. Thank you for publishing. Thank you to Fr Licini for his constant strong stand on the treatment of these men seeking asylum.

So now we must all ask PNG and the Catholic bishops to encourage Jacinta Adern to remake her offer to settle some of these men in New Zealand.

We in Australia are asking our politicians what would it take to accept NZ’s offer? What will happen to these people if we they are not accepted to go to the US?

Pat Rayner
Blue Mountains Support Group
[email protected]

Linda Cusworth

Thank you Fr Giorgio for speaking out and explaining the reality of the situation so well.

We in Australia have a prime minister who declares that he is a Christian, but whose policy and actions regarding “offshore processing” are diametrically opposed to Christian values.

Thank you so much for your compassion, care, common sense and continued advocacy. Please encourage PM James Marape to ignore Australia and let those assessed as refugees go to New Zealand.

He also needs to free the Bomana 53 and allow UNHCR or New Zealand to undertake refugee determinations or reviews.

This policy has caused irreparable damage to those held captive and to PNG and Nauru.

So ashamed to be Australian.

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