Manus Island local staff 'locked out' amid security fears

An undated photo obtained from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection on February 18, 2014 shows the interior of a tent in the Manus Island detention facility. (AAP)

Manus Island detainees say PNG local staff have been prevented from re-entering the facility after threats of further violence, including throat-slitting gestures.

Manus Island detainees say they are being threatened with violence as food shortages strike, with some asylum seekers forced to skip meals amid deteriorating conditions.

Detainees say a number of local contractors, including caterers and other support staff, have been banned by management from re-entering the camp following threats and intimidation, such as throat-slitting gestures.

Tensions between detainees and Papua New Guinea contractors have remained high since the riot of February 17, which left 77 asylum seekers injured and one dead.

Staffing shortfalls have forced detainees to draw up their own impromptu roster of duties for cleaning and odd tasks, as management continues to keep local employees locked out.

“We serve the food ourselves, we clean the dining hall ourselves, we clean the yard ourselves, and we organise everything ourselves,” explains one asylum seeker in a phone call.

“But we are not supposed to do everything ourselves.”

In a message via Facebook, another asylum seeker states: “… they are forcing us to clean the toilets, bathrooms, yard and work in the kitchen, and threat (sic) us that: if you don’t do that, we will return the locals back, and the consequences will be yours.”

Detainees also say they are being forced to eat poor quality food since local staff stopped catering duties amid the clamp down.

It is alleged food is now distributed by Australian staff from trucks and there are complaints of shortages, as well as asylum seekers suffering nausea and missing meals.

“Everyone has got lots of lots of stomach problems, and (management’s) excuse is: because there is no local staff, the food is bad!” writes one asylum seeker via Facebook.

“We are scared, and shocked, and after trauma there’s lots of side effects for, and lots of mental health issues … people aren’t sleeping regularly.

“I can’t sleep. We are moaning and groaning during the sleep and (having) nightmares and suddenly wake up.”

Speaking on the phone, another asylum seeker told an advocate:

“Please don’t leave us alone. We need your help. It’s a really bad situation here.”

Another detainee repeatedly requested humanitarian assistance on Manus Island:

“We ran away from our countries because of the danger that threatened us, and no we have another problem here … out of the frying pan, into the fire.”

The office of Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has been approached for comment.

“Not a forced labour camp”

“Manus is meant to be a processing centre, not a forced labour camp,” says Rachel Ball, Director of Advocacy and Campaigns at the Human Rights Law Centre.

“These reports of thinly veiled threats of violence against asylum seekers if they don't work show yet again that we are sending vulnerable people into dangerous environments.”

A G4S spokesperson said it was company policy to not discuss contractual or operational matters.

Transfield, which beat G4S in a tender in late February, will be paid $1.22 billion to operate the Manus Island and Nauru detention facilities for 20 months.

This equates to about $900 a day for each detainee.

Transfield will take full control of the Manus Island detention centre on March 28.

“We fight until we die”

One detainee has provided photographs of what is alleged to be instructions by management in the event of more violent incidents within the camp:

“If the PNG police are required to enter your compound you will hear multiple fire engine sirens being turned on and off. If you are not part of the riot … sit down and put your hands on your head. G4S personnel will then attempt to move you to a place of safety,” it reads.

Some detainees say they will resist if attacked by Manus Island police or local staff.

“We will fight with everybody who want attack us (sic). We fight until we die,” writes one.

Asked if they thought another attack would occur soon, the asylum seeker replies, “yes, yes, yes, yeeeeeees.”

Asher Wolf is a freelance journalist and information activist. Correspondence with asylum seekers has been released to SBS with permission for publication.

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