Asylum seekers detained on Manus, Nauru say Coalition win is 'terrible news' for them

Asylum seekers and refugee advocates say mental health is continuing to deteriorate on Manus Island and Nauru, after a Coalition victory at the election shattered many hopes of policy change.

Protestors rallying in Sydney's Hyde Park last October against the treatment of asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru.

Protestors rallying in Sydney's Hyde Park last October against the treatment of asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru. Source: AAP

Asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru have called Scott Morrison's election win "terrible news". 

Many had been hopeful a Labor government would prevail victorious after Bill Shorten had promised to increase Australia's humanitarian intake to 27,000 refugees a year and accept New Zealand's offer to resettle 150 asylum seekers

Scott Morrison had instead announced cuts to overall migration numbers, with many fearing he would also abolish the Medevac law passed in February this year.

The author, activist and Manus detainee Behrouz Boochani said it was a sign that Australia had become "more fascist".

On Monday, Sudanese refugee Abdul Aziz Muhamat told SBS Arabic24 there had been two suicide attempts among Manus Island refugees since the election results were announced.

"We were following it closely and our hopes were crushed," he said.

"We were really hopeful. We thought a new government would come and we could start our lives again. It was a shock but I understand people inside Australia have different priorities."

He told SBS Arabic24 he "respects that [Australia] voted for the Coalition but please let's work together to find a solution for the detainees ... We just want to start a new life, look after our families and contribute to society".

"We are not asking to be transferred to Australia. Morrison made it clear we won't be resettled in Australia, but why don't they speed up the process and send us to the US. Why don't they send us to New Zealand?"

Another asylum seeker tweeting from the Island begged Australia to "end this misery" and "show some compassion".

"Men on Manus have lost all hope after the election outcome. Suicidal thoughts are escalating as their depression spirals. Six long years of indefinite detention is destroying what is left of our lives," Shamindan Kanapadhi wrote.


"I ask all of my fellow detainees to not lose hope, but remain strong, and we have to look after each other as we always did."

Just days before, the Sri Lankan asylum seeker featured in a video urging voters to "vote for values of compassion, freedom, and justice".

Speaking to SBS News on Monday, Ian Rintoul of the Refugee Action Coalition said he had spoken to many asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru since the election result, all of which were feeling "despair or anger". 

"People were hoping the election was going to provide some kind of circuit breaker or hope that there would be a solution after six years of being held on Manus and Nauru, and now they find they’re confronting the same government which has ruthlessly imposed barbaric conditions on the offshore detention islands," he said.

"There has been an immediate increase of attempted suicides on Nauru and Manus, which I think we can attribute to the Saturday election result."

Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition.
Source: AAP

Mr Rintoul said he can only expect the overall mental health of asylum seekers to continue to deteriorate. 

When he visited Manus Island the week before the election, he said there was a mix of hopefulness for a Labor government and despair that it was too late to matter.

"For some people, yes, there were expectations that a Labor government would open the door to other options, and many people were very aware that Labor were saying unequivocally that they would accept New Zealand’s offer for 150 people to be resettled," he said.

"The truth is many people had already given up hope - it didn’t really matter, they’d been there six years, and a change in government wasn’t going to change anything."

Scott Morrison reopened offshore processing on Christmas Island in March but announced the government would then close the detention centre just weeks later, claiming it would cost $1 billion to operate for four years.

But a professor of public law at the University of Sydney Mary Crock told SBS News operating facilities on Manus Island and Nauru was just as costly.

"Personally, I think that whoever was elected must do something about Manus Island and Nauru, if only because the policy of doing nothing is costing Australia literally billions of dollars," she said.

"I think the big question in everybody’s mind is where do we go from here because so little was expressed by the coalition about what they were going to do after the election."

A 2016 report by Unicef found the government had spent $9.6 billion over four years on running its detention centres and funding its turn-back policies.

Professor Crock said she was not surprised to learn at least two asylum seekers had attempted to take their own lives since the election.

Professor Mary Crock says there are no legal barriers stopping the government from releasing asylum seekers from offshore detention centres.
Source: SBS

"This is unfortunately exactly what I expected would be the response, because the hard-line that’s been put out by Prime Minister Morrison but also Mr Dutton has been absolutely uncompromising but also very cruel," she said.

"The power’s all there, they don’t have to change anything in terms of the law to get these people away from where they are, it's just the political will, but they’re so focused on the framing - so I’m just hoping Australians will eventually get the message across to the government that we don’t need to be this cruel, we don’t need to be this horrible. 

"And I think from the perspective of Prime Minister, with his professed Christian beliefs, one would hope that a bit of humanity would now prevail."

SBS News has contacted the Department of Home Affairs for comment but has not received a response.

The regional processing centre on Manus Island's Lombrum Naval Base closed in 2017 but there are about 600 refugees living in camps in the main town of Lorengau.

The offshore policy is designed to deter people from embarking on treacherous sea journeys, but the United Nations and other rights groups have long criticised the camps' conditions and the long detention periods.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 and Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 (up to age 25). More information about mental health is available at Beyond Blue.

Additional reporting: SBS Arabic24

Published 20 May 2019 at 1:39pm, updated 21 May 2019 at 9:42am
By Claudia Farhart