FR GIORGIO LICINI
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.