The original offshore processing arrangement, in which the men were detained in a ‘Regional Processing Centre’ (RPC) on Manus Island, was found to be unconstitutional by the PNG Supreme Court on 26 April 2016. The court ordered that their detention end, and the next day the centre was declared ‘open’, with the men able to leave the centre and go to Lorengau town during the day.
On the ground, however, nothing really changed. The men were not able to live anywhere else or leave Manus Island without permission. As the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stated in 2016, the number of security guards, presence of fences, and continued use of communal tents made the arrangement indistinguishable from the previous one.
Forcing them out
In April 2017, the Australian Government announced that the centre would close by the end of October. Most of the men wanted to stay at the centre, and held peaceful protests asking for their safety and freedom. Their requests were met with a relentless and brutal campaign to force them to leave.
Facilities and services were gradually removed in the months leading up to the closure, and medications, food and water were restricted so they would be forced to leave. On 31 October 2017, most of the Australian service providers left. The next day, water and power supplies were cut off.
Around 600 men stayed. Over the next weeks, tensions escalated. Those left in the centre were forced to store water in garbage bins. Locals were prevented by PNG security forces from delivering food to the men. One man who collapsed with chest pain reportedly waited four and a half hours before he was taken to a local hospital, where the only ECG machine was broken. PNG officials entered the compound, destroying sun-shelters, smashing the taps on water tanks, and filling in water wells.
We learned of what was happening through the bravery of some of the men in the compound, including Abdul Aziz’s podcasts of the events over those days. Human rights organisations and international bodies, including UNHCR, called for an urgent end to the humanitarian emergency. Those calls were not heeded.
Between 23 and 24 November, the PNG police, paramilitary and immigration officials removed those left in the centre by force, threats and intimidation.
People were threatened and beaten with metal batons and rocks were thrown at them. The refugees and people seeking asylum RCOA spoke to in October 2018 highlighted the trauma of being attacked once again, humiliated, and transferred from one detention centre to essentially another one. Many lost the little they had, as they did not have a chance to pack.
In that tough situation where I was separated from my happiness and my dreams, finally I found a best friend in my diary. My diary was my only friend with who I could share my pain. I was always writing my pain, suffering and struggle and it gave to me some lovely time as I kept myself busy in a place where there wasn’t any activity to do. […]
The day when we were attacked and removed by force to another prison camp, they entered my room and abused me both physically and verbally and destroyed my everything. My diary, my books, my clothes have been destroyed. I couldn’t protect my diary. The moment is such a painful moment. It is the worst moment when everything is going wrong but you are not able to protect or fight back for your rights. I cried and begged them please not to destroy my diary but their only response was to abuse us […]
— part of the writing by Samad Abdul, PNG, 2017 (Writing Through Fences)
Table 2 in the appendix sets out the events in October and November 2017 in more detail.