'Safer than going outside': Detainee vows to stay on Manus without food, water

A Manus Island detainee tells SBS News why he will not leave Australia’s offshore detention centre, despite today's planned closure.

Manus Island detainee Shamindan Kanapadhi says he will not leave Australia’s offshore immigration detention centre which, despite Tuesday's planned closure.

The Sri Lankan refugee says he is worried that locals "could come and attack" refugees and asylum seekers if they join the local community and detainees have locked themselves in the detention facility at the Lombrum Navy Base in Papua New Guinea for protection, as Australia prepares to shut it down.

"We are very scared to go to the town camps," Mr Kanapadhi told SBS News.

"We think that staying here is safer than going outside."

Mr Kanapadhi says he has not received further information from authorities other than that they were closing the compound.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said in a statement that following the closure of the detention centre, refugees could settle in PNG, as had been agreed in 2013, while those of the 600 men there who were not refugees should relocate to another facility named Hillside Haus.

Otherwise, he said, they can apply for resettlement in the US or seek to move to Nauru. They can also volunteer to return to their home countries, which Australia and PNG said they would facilitate. 

Mr Kanapadhi claims members of parliament and island locals have said they don't want refugees and asylum seekers in their community.

Manus Island detainees have previously claimed locals assaulted them upon leaving the compound. In April there were media reports that two detainees had been attacked by knives and in July some were reported to have been hit by stones.

Mr Kanapadhi says the detention centre appears to have already stopped operating, with food services having ceased for a second day.

"We don't know how long we are going to survive here because [there is] no food and water," he said.

He says medication will run out soon for those refugees who are ill but believes the current conditions are better than joining the local community.

"We think that staying here is safer than going outside.

"We're not going to move."

Acting Prime Minister Julie Bishop says refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island will be guaranteed all appropriate services at alternative accommodation.

"Today the regional processing centre on Manus Island will be closed and the PNG government has made alternative accommodation arrangements," she told reporters in Perth on Tuesday.

Facilities for refugees have been established at two alternative venues: East Lorengau Refugee Transit Centre and West Lorengau House.

"I understand the PNG government has made arrangements for all essential services to be available at the alternative accommodation - food, water, electricity and medical services," Ms Bishop said. 

She added those who were not refugees or owed protection "should leave and go home".

Labor's immigration spokesman Shayne Neumann has criticised the government for closing the centre, saying it has not provided enough information to refugees and asylum seekers about further arrangements.

"The Turnbull Government has known about the closure of Manus Island RPC for more than six months but has been unclear and unwilling to explain how refugees will continue to have their basic human needs met – including access to security, health and welfare services," Mr Neumann said in a statement.

"Transferring refugees from one centre to another is not a long-term solution. These people urgently need viable third-country resettlement options."

World Vision chief advocate Tim Costello urged the federal government to evacuate detainees to Australia, a course of action it continues to refuse to do.

Human Rights Watch said in a statement that Australia and PNG "had failed to protect" the wellbeing of hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers sent to Manus Island.

"The so-called 'Australian model' of dealing with refugees and asylum seekers ‎is no model to follow in Europe or anywhere else – the system has led to misery, suffering, and even suicide," Elaine Pearson, the Australia director of Human Rights Watch said.

4 min read
Published 31 October 2017 at 5:55pm
By Andrea Booth, Stefan Armbruster