The National, Friday February 21st, 2014
IF doing Australia a good turn as a loyal friend and neighbour means being a party to making the lives of hundreds of refugees miserable and untenable than Papua New Guinea has allowed itself to be part of something cruel and undemocratic.
We have blood on our hands, and it is in cahoots with Australia’s single-minded and stubborn border security policy of off-shore processing that we have been dragged into a morass that is entirely our neighbour’s doing.
The Iranian killed this week, apparently at the hands of authorities, highlights what an unmitigated disaster the Manus detention centre is turning out to be.
The tension and unrest among asylum seekers locked up in Manus is palpable.
The recent protests and ensuing violence is the natural result of keeping desperate people in cruel and inhumane conditions – not just in the environment they have been forced to endure but the uncertainty and hopelessness of their predicament.
If people are treated like caged animals then sooner rather than later something will give.
What now needs to be done is a thorough investigation into the circumstances in which a detainee in a cramped processing centre could end up getting killed in demonstrations that turned violent.
Who were the asylum seekers protesting to and why was not the situation managed better? When will the PNG police, Australian authorities and the security firm employed there tell us the truth.
The arrangement between the Australian and PNG governments smacks of an ad hoc deal cobbled together as a last resort for political expedience – on Australia’s part.
What is astonishing is very little information is being provided by the security company that is contracted to the centre. This company may have more to answer for but until now not one statement or comment has issued from any spokesman on the matter.
It seems the detention centre is shrouded is a cloud of mystery.
Media access is limited to say the least.
No employees of the centre and the Australian government have been at liberty to provide answers or indeed give a clear picture of the goings on inside the gates of the Lombrum Naval Base property.
From reports and accounts emanating from Manus, an isolated island more than a 100km off the north coast of the mainland in the Bismarck Sea, there is a distinct disconnect between local law enforcement and those tasked to maintain security at the centre.
Manus police commander Alex N’Drasal vented his frustration at the situation, calling out the Australian government to properly run the facility in the wake of the latest incident. This is an ongoing concern for N’Drasal as there have been other alleged unsavoury incidents, some formally reported and others anecdotally referenced by people who have come into contact with former employees, workers and locals at Lombrum.
These cannot be ignored and action by Australia or the government of Peter O’Neill is required.
N’Drasal called on the Australian immigration authorities to act promptly and in a way alleviate the suffering and anguish that has already resulted in negative and at times dangerous behaviour.
The peaceful and quiet island of Manus is quickly earning a touch of notoriety and will continue to make headlines for this reason unless something is done.
It may be too late for O’Neill to pull the plug on the asylum seeker deal, an issue that is as divisive in Australia as it is irksome here PNG, but surely the Australian government is abusing the friendship between our two countries with its insistence on using our land as a holding pen for people it deems undesirable, potential threats or just plain old queue jumpers.
Whatever Australia’s reasons for keeping them under lock and key in what amounts to the Western front, surely these people deserve some form of justice and fair play.
After all as many “fair dinkum” Aussies would attest it is simply un-Australian to carry on this way.
It is un-Melanesian to persecute people like this.