The National, Thursday April 21st, 2016
AT least 45 asylum seekers in the Manus Island detention centre have been told they are not entitled to refugee status, despite never presenting their refugee claims to Papua New Guinea authorities.
And while they face possible deportation, only one – the outspoken Kurdish Iranian journalist Behrouz Bouchani – has been told he has been granted provisional “positive” refugee determinations, despite refusing to participate in the process in PNG.
The move by PNG immigration is further progression of the government’s plans to process all refugee applications by the end of June and eventually empty and close the Manus detention centre.
It also comes amid an apparent continuing crackdown by the Nauru government on refugees self-harming or attempting suicide, to deter protests.
About 500 people with “positive” refugee determinations at Manus are expected to be moved to a transit centre, or “resettled” in PNG.
Those with negative assessments can appeal, but “double negative” assessments – when the appeal also fails – face forced deportation. The government has also overturned some decisions that were initially positive.
But a group of about 60 asylum seekers have refused to present their refugee claims to PNG authorities, saying they were forcibly and unlawfully taken to PNG and had not sought asylum there.
They are now having their claims decided without their participation.
“I don’t understand how they gave me positive result because I did not give my case to them,” Bouchani said. “It is illegal because I refused to give my case to them.
“I feel this decision is like a punishment. If they know I am a real refugee why (have) they put me in this hell(ish) prison for three years?”
Bouchani fled Iran after threats from the country’s paramilitary force, the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution (the Sepah) over his journalism promoting Kurdish autonomy. Several of his colleagues were arrested. He fled and came to Australia by boat, and has continued to work while in detention, filing stories for various news outlets, including the Guardian, and participating in documentaries broadcast in Australia, the UK, France, Germany and Spain.
The PNG government wants to close the Manus detention centre, and the prime minister, Peter O’Neill, has described it as a “problem” that had damaged his country. But he also says PNG cannot resettle all the 900 men on Manus, and that his government does not have the resources.
Early efforts at resettlement have foundered. Refugees have been left homeless, and forced to sell their possessions. At least six of fewer than 20 resettled refugees have returned to Manus, asking for food and shelter.
Meanwhile, on Nauru, there are fears another asylum seeker is facing charges for an act of self-harm after he tried to set himself alight and was arrested.
According to the refugee action coalition, the 38-year-old Adnan, who is on Nauru with his wife and two children, allegedly attempted to self-immolate to draw attention to the lack of care received by his daughter. The one-year-old girl has severe behavioural problems, said Ian Rintoul, a spokesman, and Adnan’s wife also suffers from severe depression.
“Police action like this against refugees can only make things worse,” said Rintoul.
“The police are using criminal charges to cover up the abuse that is the reality of incarceration on Nauru.”
A spokeswoman for the department of immigration and border protection said they were aware of an incident, and “this individual is being provided with appropriate medical care”. “It is not appropriate for the department to comment on the legal and judicial processes of another country, or the outcomes of those processes,” she said.
The incident follows the arrest and conviction of an Iranian man, Sam Nemati,last week for attempting suicide, which sparked outrage among medical groups. They said it was a regressive and punitive reaction to mental health issues.
The conviction of Nemati by the Nauruan justice system occurred within weeks, while several cases of alleged assaults and abuse have gone without consequence for months. Despite numerous reports of attacks on refugees and asylum seekers, there have been no convictions.
Nauruan authorities have not responded to repeated requests for comment, but the government information office said last week that prosecutors had hoped to have Nemati sentenced to jail time as a deterrence to people on the island who resort to self-harm as a form of protest.
The statement said the prosecutor’s aim was not directed specifically at refugees and asylum seekers, but daily protests have now entered their second month.
Unconfirmed reports from advocates suggest authorities have attempted several strategies to bring the protests to an end, including changing the time of children’s activities to coincide with the afternoon rallies.
Earlier this month, a disturbance on Nauru caused injuries to several people, including staff and two detainees. Guards were accused of assaulting asylum seekers, including a young woman and children.
The immigration department said the claims that women and children were assaulted were false.
– Guardian Australia