'They're not animals': PNG's Somare wants Manus refugees sent to Australia

Papua New Guinea’s former Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare has called for the 600 men to be sent to Australia.

Papua New Guinea’s former Prime Minister and elder statesman Sir Michael Somare has called for the men remaining on Manus Island to be sent to Australia, as hundreds continue to hold out in the former detention centre for a second day.

Sir Michael called Australia’s treatment of refugees “ruthless” and “hypocritical”, saying the agreement was that they be resettled elsewhere and not in PNG.

The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR has again called on “Australia to stop a humanitarian emergency unfolding on Manus” and details “inadequate” services on the island.

Refugees on Manus Island and Senator Nick McKim.
Refugees protest on Manus Island with Australian Senator Nick McKim (light blue shirt, centre) during his visit in 2017. Source: Supplied

About 600 refugees and asylum seekers remain barricaded in the centre on the PNG Lombrum navy base, after Australia officially closed it on Tuesday. They have spent a second night without food, clean water and now, no electricity.

for “transit” accommodation in the main town of Lorengau. They claim it is unsafe for them, they lack support services, and want to be resettled in a third country.

PNG police have said they respect their human rights and would not forcibly remove the men.

“We should have a better understanding between two prime ministers of Australia and PNG and repatriate these people,” Sir Michael told SBS News after releasing a statement earlier.

"[The] best thing is for Australia and PNG to agree to make re-agreement again for people to be shipped to Australia.

“Don’t treat them as animals, they’re not animals, they’re human beings.

“We [PNG] can’t all be blamed for resettling them here. We did it on an understanding that Australia was looking for a place.”

In April last year, Papua New Guinea’s highest court ruled detention for Australia’s off-shore processing on Manus as “illegal” and “unconstitutional” and the PNG government ordered it be shut.

Immigration minister Peter Dutton has repeatedly said no refugees from Manus will be resettled in Australia.

“There's new facilities that have been built and it's a much better facility than where people are at the moment and I'd just say to the advocates here who are telling people not to move, to resist moving centres; that they're not doing those people any favours,” Mr Dutton told Channel Nine.

Greens senator Nick McKim left the island on Thursday after joining the refugees in their protest and highlighted their issues in numerous international media interviews.

On Tuesday, Mr Dutton accused Senator McKim of spreading “false information and [using the refugees] for cheap political stunts to build his public profile”.

Senator McKim responded saying Mr Dutton “is a racist, a proven liar, a fascist, a serial human rights abuser and it's a badge of honour to be personally attacked by Petter Dutton”.

“I want to close Manus as quickly as possible, but it doesn't help when you've got the Greens and others who are telling people not to engage, not to move. It makes a very difficult situation even worse,” Mr Dutton said on Thursday.

“We've got a deal with the United States to move 1,200 people.”

Of the hundreds of men on Manus, so far only two dozen have left for the US.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' observers on the island said in a statement that Australia remained responsible for the men.

“If all 600 individuals were to leave immediately, many would not find adequate or sufficient accommodation elsewhere. The East Lorengau Regional Transit Centre was only intended for temporary accommodation and has limited capacity.

“There is no security fence at West Lorengau Haus or Hillside Haus in the Ward 1 area of Lorengau." 

UNHCR said it “observed” on Monday, a day before the closure of the centre, the ‘West Lorengau Haus’ construction is incomplete and has no electricity or water.

On the island, it reported tensions in the community over the relocation of the men due to “lack of consultation”, “lack of caseworkers” and “inadequate local hospital facilities”.

“Only four Immigration and Citizenship Service Authority caseworkers are providing assistance to a population of over 700 refugees and asylum-seekers.”

Extra police are on standby on the island but have not attempted to remove the men.

“We have to move them without any use of physical force and their transfers from the centre to the new locations must be done orderly and smoothly and without any force,” Manus Provincial Police Commander David Yapu said.

“We respect their human rights, even though they are foreigners, they are still subject to one rule of law.”

In 2002, then Australian Prime Minister John Howard struck the original Manus off-shore processing deal with PNG in 2002 but was shut down by his successor Kevin Rudd in 2008.

“As the prime minister at the time I honoured the arrangement of the previous government but once the processing was completed, my government put a stop to this so-called Pacific Solution,” Sir Michael said in his statement, adding any resettlement needs support services.

The latest incarnation was reopened under the governments of prime ministers Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd with a Memorandum of Understanding with PNG’s prime minister Peter O’Neill.

“Acts of violence has (sic) been perpetrated with impunity and worse still lives have been lost,” he said.

“To exploit the vulnerabilities of neighbours like PNG and Nauru is disgraceful enough
but to treat human beings with complete apathy is ruthless and insensible."

Newly-appointed New Zealand Prime Minister with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull when the leaders meet for the first time on Sunday, according to local media reports. 

6 min read
Published 2 November 2017 at 7:01pm
By Stefan Armbruster