Alcohol, sex fuel Manus tensions over refugee processing


Manus Island authorities are blaming a rise in crime and social disorder on the refugees and detention centre workers that now call the island home.

Tensions are rising on Manus island with hundreds of refugees due for release from the Australian-run detention centre. 

Dozens of refugees have been already released from the male-only centre since January but they are not permitted to work or leave the island.

Local authorities say the refugees and detention centre workers are contributing to a rise in crime and social disorder, citing instances of drunkenness, drug use and sexual relations with locals.

Along with the refugees there has been an influx of cashed-up detention centre workers on Manus.

Manus Island governor Charlie Benjamin, who agreed to host the Regional Processing Centre, said the community was on edge. 

“So many drugs, people getting drunk, and boy-girl issues, adultery, these are now happening,” he said.

“Yes, I think I do have regrets. We have more social problems and I hope they don’t outweigh the tangible developments that are happening.”

When the refugees are released they live at the transit centre in the town of Lorengau and are closely monitored.

Some refugees have found themselves locked up with locals inside the Manus police jail. 

One refugee, after a suicide attempt, was detained in the cage-like building alongside locals who had been arrested. 

“He was mentally distarded (sic)," said Manus provincial police commander Alex Ndrasal.

"He tried to commit suicide, he was damaging property and threatening his room mate and therefore the officers at transit centre asked the police to assist."

“We decided to assist by bring him here so he doesn't cause any more problems and after a couple of days we took him back after he was cooled down.”

Police admit to being overwhelmed and under resourced.

“Before the asylum seeker project, Manus was under control in terms of law and order,” said Commander Ndrasal.

“It brings in so many contractors, and so many people who would like to make money, it creates more social disorder, and it brings crime, and there’s more crime committed in the province.”

A new police station and lock-up for Manus is being funded with Australian aid.

Iranian refugee Mohsen Sakhravi who witnessed last year's detention centre riots said he was afraid for this safety on the island.

“I cannot say many things, for my safety,” he said. 

“I’m scared of staff who are working here, like immigration, I don’t feel safe. No-one feels safe.”

Mr Sakhravi was beaten up outside a local hotel in June after the transit centre evening curfew. 

His alleged assailants are now before the courts.

Unable to leave Manus, some refugees after years of detention, are seeking another way out.

“I am one of them but I’m not crazy,” Mr Sakhrav said.

“I think more than three times I [attempted] suicide. It’s a big sin because I am Christian."

Of the nearly 1000 men in the Manus detention centre, half of those processed so far have been recognised as refugees and are due for release to East Lorengau.

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch