By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan
The Australian and Papua New Guinea (PNG) Governments have decided to shut down the only detention centre on Manus Island of the Manus Province of PNG, on 31 October 2017 in an attempt to seek ‘closure’ on 750 odd asylum seekers of which 21 are Sri Lankan Tamils.
The centre, which has four compounds, has gradually had its water supply cut off as well as a reduction of other facilities, encouraging inmates to relocate to transit camps based in the capital of Manus Island, Lorengau.
Speaking exclusively to Ceylon Today, an Australian immigration expert and community educator, Rebecca Lim who works with asylum seekers in Manus Island, said that some have moved to the new centre in fear that Australia will abandon them, while many are trying to remain in the other compounds of the detention centre.
She disclosed that the asylum seekers, all of them men, living there for more than four years, have been urged to relocate to the transit centres in Lorengau, or get back to their native countries.
Once the camps are shut down, Australia will not take responsibility of their welfare or resettlement, she noted.
“Post October, it would be the government of PNG that will take the responsibility leaving Australia out from the mission as they have also paid the PNG government for this move.”
“It is documented that refugee women have been raped in Nauru. They have been given choices: 20 years of visa to settle in Nauru: relocate in Cambodia, or return to their native country.”
Already the Australian Government has settled four families in Cambodia spending 56 million Aussie dollars.
“My view is that in the coming weeks, they will apply pressure on the rest to move out to the city and they will not move. She pointed out that the PNG riot police is on standby. If these people try to retaliate, their hope to seek asylum elsewhere will shatter completely.”
Over this pressure, one person has decided to leave for Sri Lanka, she said. If not, he would be subject to deportation.
There are Nepalese, Iranians, Vietnamese, Bangladeshis, Rohingyas, Pakistanis, Afghans, Sudanese, Somalis, Tamils and Burmese who failed to obtain asylums thus far.
It is noted that the Australian Government has spent about 3 billion Australian dollars from 2013, on the asylum seekers.
In 2013, people seeking Australia’s protection were forcibly transferred from Christmas Island to Manus Island for processing.
In April 2016, the PNG Supreme Court found the detention of the men at the naval base in Lombrum to be unconstitutional.
Even the UNHCR has previously stated that resettlement in PNG is not a durable solution.
Lim went on to say that many of them do not feel safe living in the town as they underwent repeated physical assaults and there was a lack of prosecution for these attacks. “They visit the town, about an hours’ drive from the camp, from time to time, but do not stay permanently. They returned to the ‘safety’ of the camp where their community is with them to care for each other.”
While the local Manusian community has been welcoming, the community now fears the influx of few hundred men will change the landscape of their small community.
Sri Lankan refugee Rajeev Rajendran who is suspected to have committed suicide recently, had not been provided urgent psychiatric treatment, she said.
She also pointed out that the ongoing medical care of another Sri Lankan refugee and a few others who are unwell has made the men more afraid of relocating to Lorengau.