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The people who just won’t leave

2 November 2017 2:32 AM
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The people who just won’t leave

RUSSELL Crowe is not a happy man. He’s blown up over what he’s calling Australia’s “shame” and a national “disgrace”.

The actor tweeted: “Manus. A Nations shame. Lives held in limbo . Lives lived in fear & despair . It’s f***ing disgraceful.”

When a Twitter user challenged him, he replied, “Maybe you could put them up somewhere if you’re so ashamed?”, the actor said he was willing to do so.

“I’ve thought about this,” he replied. “I believe I could house and find jobs for 6. I’m sure there’d be other Australians who would do the same.”

Lawyer and philanthropist Kon Karapanagiotidis stated his support, tweeting: “Agreed. I have a room ready to for a refugee from #Manus right now in my home and a job too. Who else?”

The Gladiator star’s comments come as food, water, medicine and power supplies have been cut off at Manus Island detention centre. After 24 hours without anything to eat, the remaining 606 detainees are starving. There is no sewage system and the toilets are overflowing.

All they have is rainwater they have collected in bins, with some said to be adding salt and sugar to preserve it and others digging holes to find something to drink.

These people are surrounded by enemies, having allegedly been brutally attacked by the navy and robbed and stabbed by locals.

Yet these final hold-outs are refusing to leave the detention centre and move to new accommodation, convinced their fate outside those walls will be far worse.

Iranian journalist Behrouz Boochani, who has been detained on Manus for four years, said last night that tensions were reaching breaking point. Speaking via mobile phone after taking turns on a solar panel to charge it, he told that those around him were terrified and battling with the extreme conditions.

“The condition is getting worse because the starvation put pressure on people, people’s body is getting weak,” said Boochani. “People need urgent medical treatment, they have been sick for long time.

“One of the refugees harmed himself with a razor; physically he is okay, but mentally he is unwell.

“There are rumours the navy soldiers plan attack on the detention centre, the people are really scared.”

Around 20 per cent of the men had been on medication for mental health disorders including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to Green leader Richard Di Natale, with the United Nations reporting that almost all had some kind of mental health condition.

It is hot and humid on Papua New Guinean island, and the men dread the night time. On Wednesday night, there was looting of the camp and tropical mosquitoes reclaimed the shut-down compound. Last night was the first in complete darkness, with all power and fuel now switched off.

Navy soldiers who have been guarding the centre for the past four years are still patrolling, but the detainees have no idea what they plan to do next. “Immigration was here, they come talk to refugees,” said Boochani. “They say that if you stay here you will not receive water, power, food or electricity — it’s up to you if you want to stay.

“I don’t trust immigration, the government, or the politician. Anything is possible.”

The refugees have been holding protests every afternoon since the closure was announced. Today is day 94. They have held one every day without fail and have only stopped twice — in both instances because a man in the centre died by suicide. There are fears of further self-harming.

In a poignant picture of the protesters, one holds a sign that reads: “We came looking for a safe life, not war.”

The detention centre, located at the PNG Navy Base Lombrum, was closed after the court ruled last year that Australia’s detention of refugees and asylum seekers there was illegal and unconstitutional.

The detainees are being urged to move to three alternative locations, but say they won’t be safe at the new accommodation. The UN says at least one of the new buildings is still under construction and unhappy locals are reportedly blocking the work.

Human Services Minister Alan Tudge denies this claim, insisting the new accommodation is safe and secure.

Julie Bishop said food, water, electricity and medical services would be provided if the people move. The Acting Prime Minister said it made “no sense” for detainees to remain in the centre, but would not guarantee their safety if they leave the camp.

Human rights lawyers have lodged an injunction that would effectively force the centre to reopen, which is due to be heard in the PNG Supreme Court today.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said he wanted to close Manus Island as quickly as possible, and that advocates telling people not to move “makes a difficult situation even worse.”

PNG officials had said the facility would be returned to defence forces on Wednesday and that anyone remaining would be considered to be trespassing on a military base, but the stand-off has instead continued. Immigration officials say they will not remove the men by force, despite a growing military presence at the camp.

Of the 606 men, 440 have been deemed legitimate refugees by Australia. Fifty have refused to cooperate with the detention process as they say they were unlawfully transferred to PNG. The rest are non-refugees.

But the Government refuses to take in anyone who tried to reach Australia by boat. It is locked in a disagreement with the PNG government over who has responsibility for these refugees.

Some of those whose refugee claims were denied have been forcibly sent home. The United States has resettled 54 of them in recent weeks and is considering taking almost 1200 more.

Greens senator Nick McKim has warned that deaths are inevitable, calling Mr Dutton a “monster” who “could have blood on his hands.”

Boochani says the Australian Government is “most responsible”, a position backed by the human rights commissioner.

“We did not come to PNG by our own will,” said Boochani. “We are recognised as refugees by international law, it’s our right to live in a safe place. We are calling and asking for our right.”

He said refugees did not necessarily want to live in Australia, they just want to be allowed to live in a safe country. “Don’t use us for politics — we are people,” he said. “Sending people to Nauru is not a solution.

“They have been in this prison camp for more than four years, so it is enough.”

If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78, visit Multicultural Mental Health Australia or find Local Aboriginal Medical Service details here.


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