Manus refugees still suffering

Behrouz Boochani, a journalist and detainee in Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island detention centre, says the conditions for refugees are worse than ever.

Last year, the men were beaten with iron bars and bussed to three newly constructed detention camps in the eastern part of Lorengau, the main town on the island.

Four hundred people were squeezed into facilities with a capacity of 280. For two nights, 57 men slept on mattresses in a classroom. After rainfall, the ground turned to mud, and workers and construction equipment were still operating.

Boochani reported one occasion when the men had to wait up to seven hours for food, and sometimes only half of them ate.

In late December, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees visited the camps and revealed the extent of neglect. It reported that 50 people should be evacuated for medical reasons, that there were no torture or trauma counsellors and no interpreters and that there was no access to phone credit or an allowance.

At West Lorengau Haus, there are 15 squat toilets and 11 showers for 142 people. The shower room ceiling of Hillside Haus has exposed pipes dripping waste water. There is potential for untreated tank water to become a health risk. And there are leaking washing machines but no tools to fix them.

Joinul Islam, a Bangladeshi refugee attacked with a machete in November, was still awaiting follow-up surgery and had no access to painkillers. Boochani reported in the Guardian, “The medical condition is much worse than before because so many people are traumatised by the last incident, when police beat the refugees”.

In another case, Boochani reported that a 42-year-old refugee who had been on hunger strike for 20 days was sent to Port Moresby hospital. On 26 January, he was tied down and force-fed.

Compounding the problems, the facilities are built on customary land owned by locals. They are demanding compensation through protests that have at times blocked access to and from the camps for service providers, the Australian Border Force and also the refugees.

In mid-January, landowners blockaded the entrance in protest of untreated sewage running past the camp mess and causing sickness in the town.

Around 60 refugees from Manus Island and 140 from Nauru were recently flown to the US for resettlement. For those remaining, Manus Island is still a humanitarian disaster.