Australia's detainees call for UN to prevent 'disaster'
by Anadolu Agency
MELBOURNEJan 20, 2015 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Anadolu Agency
Jan 20, 2015 12:00 am
Asylum seekers being held on one of Australia's offshore detention centers are pleading for the U.N. to intervene amid fears protests could turn fatal. Around 700 detainees at Manus Island detention center in Papua New Guinea are currently on hunger strike in protest at conditions in the camp and the Australian government's proposal to settle them in Papua New Guinea. Last year an Iranian asylum seeker was killed during violent protests at the camp, with the Australian Senate reporting last month that the government had failed to protect detainees. The Refugees Action Coalition told The Anadolu Agency that 30 to 40 detainees have sewn their lips together. Several have ingested washing powder and another three have swallowed razor blades.
The protests began on Tuesday last week, fuelled by the asylum seekers' length of detention, conditions in the center and Australia's threat to forcibly settle 50 refugees in Papua New Guinea, where they fear being attacked in a society with high levels of violence and crime. Ian Rintoul, spokesman for the Refugees Action Coalition said there was a danger of the situation "heading in the same direction it went in last February" -- a reference to the unrest that led to the death of Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati, 23. He described conditions in the camp, which is made up of four separate compounds, as "appalling." Regular power cuts leave the detainees without a water supply for washing for weeks at a time in high temperatures and humidity. Poor sanitation and food contaminated with maggots and insects were among other complaints described by Rintoul. "There is a point, beyond which there is no control," he told AA. "I think the detention center is at that point now. There are so many people self-harming and collapsing because of dehydration and hunger striking. Something is going to give." Rintoul also claimed the camp guards, employed by Australian firm Transfield Services, are attempting to intimidate inmates to end the protests. "The increased intimidation is designed to get one of the compounds to break the strike and I think that's what they'll continue to do over the next few days," he said. Rintoul said bottled water -- the only source of drinkable water in the camp -- had been removed from one of the compounds.
Detainees had previously had to dig under a compound fence to reach supplies of bottled water but on Sunday afternoon a forklift was used to remove the pallets holding the water. "The government and Transfield have sunk to new depths in their attempts to break the protests on Manus Island," Rintoul told AA. "In any conditions, to deprive people of drinking water is nothing short of criminal. But given the relentless heat on Manus Island, such actions are simply beyond belief. "Most people would not credit that the government would act with such cruelty."
The asylum seekers are calling for the U.N.'s refugee agency, the UNHCR, to be involved in resettlement discussions. "The ball is in the minister's court," Rintoul said, referring to Immigration Minister Peter Dutton. "He can keep pretending that the protests aren't happening or he can act to prevent the unfolding disaster."
A letter signed by more than 80 asylum seekers spells out their fears about resettlement in Papua New Guinea. It reads: "Here a disaster is about to happen. Please prevent this disaster. The Australian government is planning to resettle us in PNG against our will, by forcing us. "We are not willing to be resettled in PNG because there is no safety [or] any future for us and our family." Opposition Greens immigration spokeswoman Senator Sarah Hanson-Young told AA the detainees had been "pushed to the edge" by the government's "harsh policy." She said she was worried that Dutton's response would aggravate the situation. "It looks like that is exactly what has happened," she said. "I fear for the lives of those locked up in the camp and plead with them not to harm themselves." Rintoul said in an attempt to break up the hunger strike protest, Transfield officers have begun rounding up compound leaders. "At least four leaders of different nationalities have been seized and taken to the high security Chauka isolation unit."
Around 1,035 men are held on Manus Island, according to last month's immigration figures. No women or children are detained in the camp.