Immigration

Protests mark five years of detention for Manus, Nauru refugees

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Activists have placed a dozen empty chairs and a dozen pairs of footwear outside many federal MPs' offices to remind them of the lives lost in offshore detention.

Five years on from the start of Australia's controversial offshore detention policy, activist groups are demanding the federal government urgently resettle more than 1600 asylum seekers who remain on Manus Island and Nauru.

The call comes as protests held on Thursday mark five years since the offshore processing policy was reintroduced by the Rudd government.

A protest outside Bill Shorten's Moonee Ponds office showing 12 chairs in a row to remember the 12 people who've died in detenti
A protest outside Bill Shorten's Moonee Ponds office showing 12 chairs in a row to remember the 12 people who've died in detention centres.
Twitter

A dozen empty chairs and a dozen pairs of footwear have been placed outside many federal MPs' offices to remind them of the lives lost in offshore detention.

Chairs have been placed outside Labor leader Bill Shorten's Moonee Ponds office, Victorian Liberal MP Tim Wilson's Bentleigh office and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg's office in Camberwell. 

Twelve refugees and asylum seekers have died.
Twelve refugees and asylum seekers have died.
SBS News

Twelve refugees and asylum seekers have died while in Australian immigration detention on Manus Island and Nauru.

Vigils will also be held outside the Melbourne offices of the Liberals' Jason Wood and Labor MP Michael Danby, and in regional Victoria, including in Geelong, Bendigo and Ballarat.

Human Rights Watch director Elaine Pearson said the mood among asylum seekers remained desperate.

She said marking the anniversary was pivotal to ensure those who "languish in terrible conditions" weren't forgotten by Australia and the world. 

"It's been five years of misery and suffering for the people who've been sent to Manus and Nauru and it's an extremely inhumane policy that's come at a huge cost to the Australian government and it must end," she told SBS News.

"Most of the people on Manus and Nauru have been found to be refugees, that means they have a fear of persecution, they cant be sent to their home countries, and yet only a few hundred have been able to move on with their lives and go to the United States."

Around 300 of those who were in detention were resettled to the US under the US-Australia refugee deal. 

But Ms Pearson said the deal with the US only heightened the anxiety for those who remained. 

"They're anxious because they fear to be left behind and forgotten," she said.

"Their mental health has really deteriorated in part because of the long periods in detention, but also being separated from loved ones and not knowing much about their future. They are exhausted, they're very tired and the men look much older than their ages."

Of the 850 who remain on Nauru, around 124 are children.

Save the Children CEO Paul Ronalds warned children in detention faced problems which would affect them in adulthood.

"The immediate impact is that these children stop going to school and stop learning, which has really significant long-term impacts to their future protests," he told SBS News.

Kurdish journalist and human rights activist Behrouz Boochani.
Kurdish journalist and human rights activist Behrouz Boochani.
Hoda Afshar

"We see the physical symptoms of that mental anguish in things like bed wetting. In adulthood, the mental impact of the circumstances will last them for their lives. It will make it hard for them to hold down jobs, hard to have long-term and trusting relationships. All the things it means to be human."

The anniversary will be marked by the release of a new book by journalist Behrouz Boochani, who spent five years detained on Manus Island. 

Titled, “No friend but the mountains: writing from Manus Prison," the book offers personal accounts from within the detention centre. 

The number of people still in offshore detention.
The number of people still in offshore detention.

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