Refugee Council of Australia
Jetty on Manus Island

Until when: The forgotten men of Manus Island

Where are they now?

Will I see freedom again?

My wings have become disabled in the cage of waiting.

The vision of my eyes can’t see from behind the grid fences any more.

Hope and love are dying in my body.

I have become a stranger with myself.

Kazem, musician and writer, Manus Island, 2017

Where are they now?

Most of the men transferred by Australia to PNG are on Manus Island, but some are in Port Moresby, and a small number in the PNG community. Their situation is discussed later in this report.

However, in early November 2018, the PNG Government confirmed that it had transferred 21 people in Port Moresby to Manus Island, including some who had not yet received their medical treatment, and that the remainder would be sent back by the end of the week. This report describes the conditions in October 2018, before these transfers took place.

Manus Island

On 24 November 2017, the last people in the RPC were forced on to buses. They were sent to three centres on Manus Island – East Lorengau Transit Centre (ELTC), West Lorengau Haus and Hillside Haus.

Only the ELTC, which had housed some refugees since it opened in 2014, was complete at the time of transfer. It has 298 beds, but in November 2017 there were 440 people housed there, some sleeping in classrooms and common areas.

West Lorengau Haus and Hillside Haus are located next to each other and were not completed by November 2017. UNHCR, visiting at the time, found them to be “incomplete, sub-standard … and unsanitary”. Neither centre had appropriate toilet, bathroom and laundry facilities. The number of the toilet and shower facilities available was grossly inadequate, there were no accessible toilets and only squat toilets in West Lorengau Haus.

Hillside Haus was poorly ventilated. The kitchen at West Lorengau Haus was also unfinished so meals had to be provided by Hillside Haus. The refugees who spoke to RCOA in 2018 reported that there were problems with the delivery of those meals as Hillside Haus did not have capacity to cater for such a large number of people. As of May 2018, there were no smoke detectors or fire alarms at these centres, and those living there did not have access to fire extinguishers.

People in West Lorengau Haus and Hillside Haus were required to use untreated water in their bathrooms and kitchens, which local authorities were concerned might present public health concerns.

In conversations with RCOA in October 2018, more than one refugee described the environment in West Lorengau Haus and Hillside Haus as “suffocating”. Both centres have little outdoor space, with Hillside Haus only having a narrow path between accommodation blocks. While in the past people could move between the two centres, the gate linking the centres is now closed from 5pm to 6am, confining people to their centres for 13 hours a day.

The men are still living in a highly controlled environment. They must live at designated facilities as determined by the PNG Immigration Minister and seek permission to live elsewhere. They cannot travel anywhere else in PNG without permission from officials. In addition, those requiring medical treatment off the island must go through an ‘ambiguous and deficient’ approvals process which involves decisions being made by Australian government officials on whether or not they can seek treatment in Port Moresby or Australia.

Refugees have not consistently been given identity or travel documents that allow them to move freely around the country or travel outside the country. Those who have an identity document (which was shown to Amnesty International) – a letter confirming identity from ICSA – said it was disregarded by the authorities as proof of identity and was only helpful to set up a bank account.

Refugees and people seeking asylum live in a heavily securitised environment where their movements are monitored. Amnesty International has witnessed a heavy private security presence at each of the sites for the three new centres. The centres are not open in the sense that anyone can come and go as they please, and access remains restricted even for human rights and humanitarian organisations.

While refugees can travel to Lorengau during the day, they are warned by private security contractors that they do so ‘at their own risk’. They are not provided with protection or security and, as discussed above, they have real concerns that police will not protect them or take their complaints seriously. This effectively curtails their movements in and around town.

“There is a nightly curfew which means they must be in the centres after 6pm. If they breach the curfew, refugees and people seeking asylum report that they understand they will be arrested by the police and kept in a police station for the night.

This restriction makes everyone so frustrated and agitated. How can they say we are free if we can’t go out after 6pm? We are essentially locked up.

— Behrouz, Manus Island, October 2018

Port Moresby

People who are temporarily in Port Moresby live in three different motels. Those in Port Moresby for medical reasons are housed in one motel, and those waiting for interviews for the US resettlement process or to leave PNG are in another two motels. The very few who have settled in PNG and have not been able to find a job are living in accommodation provided by the PNG Immigration & Citizenship Service Authority (ICSA).

Australia has paid the government of PNG AUD 20 million to build Bomana Immigration Centre, close to Port Moresby international airport. The centre is likely to open in November 2018. It will hold up to 50 people and it is believed that it will be used as a centre for forced removals.

The right to liberty and security of the person

The right to liberty and security of the person is protected under Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as is the right to freedom of movement (Art 12). Both Papua New Guinea and Australia have ratified this convention, and both rights are enshrined in PNG’s Bill of Rights (section 42 on liberty of the person, and section 52 on freedom of movement).

While some time-bound restrictions on liberty and freedom of movement for people seeking asylum may be justified, prolonged and indefinite restrictions on liberty – whether it be in open or closed centres – is not justifiable under international human rights law. In all cases, the detaining state must demonstrate why detention can be justified as reasonable, necessary and proportionate in the light of the circumstances, and this must be reassessed as it extends in time. Refugees and people seeking asylum have now been held in Papua New Guinea for more than four and a half years, with no clear plans to end their confinement on Manus Island.

As confirmed in the UN Human Rights Committee General Comment 27, any restriction on freedom of movement must be provided by law, necessary to protect national security, public order, public health or morals, or the rights and freedoms of others, and must be consistent with other rights recognized in the Covenant. Moreover, any restriction cannot “nullify the principle of liberty of movement.”

As a result of these factors, they remain in a highly restricted environment that limits their liberty and restricts freedom of movement. They cannot leave Manus Island to seek employment, medical treatment or educational opportunities without permission from the PNG authorities.

Once people seeking asylum are recognised as refugees, it is not justifiable for states to impose any form of alternative non-custodial measures, as is being applied to all refugees in Papua New Guinea.

The restrictions on the liberty of refugees and people seeking asylum on Manus amount to an unreasonable and disproportionate restriction on freedom of movement.

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