Manus Regional Processing Centre

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Department of Immigration photograph of the Manus Regional Processing Centre in 2012
First arrivals at Manus Island Airport

The Manus Regional Processing Centre, or Manus Island Regional Processing Centre (MIRCP),[1] was one of a number of offshore Australian immigration detention facilities.[2] The Centre was operated by Broadspectrum (formerly known as Transfield Services) on behalf of the Government of Australia, until Ferrovial bought out the company and its contract in April 2016.[3] The Centre was located on the PNG Navy Base Lombrum (previously a Royal Australian Navy base called HMAS Tarangau) on Los Negros Island in Manus Province, Papua New Guinea.

It was formally closed on 31 October 2017; however hundreds of detainees refused to leave the centre. On 23 November 2017, all remaining men were removed, hundreds by force, to new accommodation on the island. A small number of refugees since been resettled in the United States as part of a refugee swap deal.

Twelve Australians of the Year protested the government's handling of the problem in November 2017.[4] The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has cited the centre as an "indictment of a policy meant to avoid Australia's international obligations."[5]

As of February 2019, controversy continues about the health, living conditions and future of the remaining men on the island as well as issues relating to the maintenance of the accommodation facilities.

Timeline[edit]

1960s: West Papuan refugees on Manus Island[edit]

University of Sydney immigration law specialist Professor Mary Crock says that Australia's history of offshore processing goes back to the 1960s, when Manus Island was set up to take refugees from West Papua.[6] Known as "Salasia Camp", it consisted of a few corrugated iron houses on a bare concrete slab, not far from a beach near the main town Lorengau. Indonesia was preparing a military takeover of the former Dutch New Guinea colony in the 1960s, causing thousands of refugees, known as "West Irians" to flee into the then Australian colony of Papua New Guinea. Many were turned back by Australian patrol officers on the border but a few dozen received special visas and the first were sent to Manus in 1968 by the Australian government, to a camp was built by Australia in order to avoid a diplomatic confrontation with Indonesia. According to historian Klaus Neumann of Deakin University, “Australia had not objected to Indonesia's takeover of the Dutch colony, and Australia had recognised Indonesia was now in charge of former Western New Guinea, so for Australia to grant refugee status posed a diplomatic problem.” So by sending them to the remotest place in PNG the Australian authorities thought they would avoid any trouble with Indonesia. The camp was not a detention centre, and many stayed on, stateless, until in 2017, these West Papuans were finally offered PNG citizenship.[7]

2001: The Pacific Solution[edit]

The centre was originally established on 21 October 2001, as one of two Offshore Processing Centres (OPC). The other OPC was the Nauru detention centre. The OPC facilities were part of what became known as the "Pacific Solution", a policy of the Howard Government in Australia, which was implemented in the wake of the Tampa affair. The policy involved the excision of Australian external territories (Christmas Island, Ashmore and Cartier Islands and Cocos (Keeling) Island) and other islands in the Pacific Ocean—from the Australian migration zone. Asylum-seekers arriving by boat without visas in these excised territories to seek asylum in Australia) were transferred to the OPC facilities where they would stay while their claims for asylum were processed. The centres were managed by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).[8]

2003-2008: disuse and closure[edit]

The Manus Regional Processing Centre fell into disuse in preference to the Nauru centre. In July 2003, the immigration department announced that the centre would be wound down and the remaining detainees would be granted asylum and resettled in Australia, however the centre would continue to be maintained in case the need for reactivation arose.

Aladdin Sisalem, a Kuwaiti-born Palestinian, fled Kuwait in 2000 and in December 2002 arrived at an island in the Torres Strait where he claimed asylum, and was sent to the Manus centre. For ten months, Sisalem was the sole detainee at the centre, with a small staff of guards and cleaners for company. In May 2004, he was resettled in Melbourne.[8]

With the election of the Rudd Government (Labor) in 2007, the Manus Regional Processing Centre was formally closed in early 2008,[citation needed] fulfilling an election promise by Rudd to end the offshore processing system.[citation needed]

2010-2013: Regional Resettlement Arrangement (PNG solution)[edit]

In 2012, a significant rise in the number of irregular maritime arrivals saw the "asylum issue" become a political liability for the government. The Gillard Government commissioned Angus Houston, former Chief of the Defence Force, to lead an expert panel to conduct a review of asylum arrangements. Among the 22 recommendations made in the Houston report was one to re-open the OPC facilities on Nauru and at the Manus Regional Processing Centre.[citation needed]

On 19 July 2013 Rudd and Papua New Guinean Prime Minister Peter O'Neill announced the Regional Resettlement Arrangement policy in Brisbane.[9]

Nov 2012: re-opening[edit]

In November 2012, the Manus Regional Processing Centre was re-opened by the Labor government, due to the large volume of irregular maritime arrivals. Then Immigration Minister Chris Bowen stated "At this stage, family groups are best accommodated on Manus Island, as opposed to Nauru." The British services company G4S was responsible for its operation.[10]

In July 2013, shortly after Kevin Rudd returned as prime minister for a second time, the government announced that boat arrivals would never be allowed to resettle in Australia. The following month, it agreed to give Papua New Guinea A$400m (£230m; $310m) in aid in exchange for their part of the deal, which included agreeing to resettle refugees.[11] After the Liberal/National coalition won the federal election on 7 September 2013, Tony Abbott was sworn in as Prime Minister.[12]

In March 2014, the contract with G4S expired, and the Australian government entered into a 20-month contract worth AUD $1.22 billion with Broadspectrum (which operated the facility in Nauru) for facilities management including building maintenance and catering,[13] with security provided by Wilson Security.[14]

Feb 2014: riots and Reza Barati murder[edit]

On 17 February 2014, a series of protests by detainees at the centre escalated into a serious disturbance, which resulted in injuries to about 70 asylum seekers as well as the death of one detainee: 23-year-old Iranian asylum seeker Reza Berati was murdered by being struck with wood and a rock.[15][11] In April 2016 two detention centre workers, Joshua Kaluvia and Louie Efi, were each sentenced to 10 years in jail for Berati's murder.[16]

Cornall Review[edit]

Robert Cornall was appointed in February 2014 to conduct "a review into the circumstances surrounding the Manus centre disturbances" leading up to Berati's death[17] with the primary focus on management of security at the centre.[18][19][20][21] Cornall presented his review to the Immigration Department on 23 May 2014.[20]

Cornall had previously conducted an investigation into allegations of sexual abuse at the Manus Regional Processing Centre,[22] his report being presented to the Department in September 2013.[20][23]

Sept 2014: death of Hamid Kehazaei[edit]

On 24 August 2014, 24-year-old Iranian asylum seeker Hamid Kehazaei sought medical treatment at the detention centre's clinic for an infected wound after cutting his foot.[11] Kehazaei's condition worsened and he could not be treated on the island. Medical staff sought his immediate evacuation, but permission was not granted until 26 August. Kehazaei was declared brain dead in a Brisbane hospital on 2 September 2016. With his family's permission, his life-support was switched off on 5 September 2016.[24] An inquest into Kehazaei's death began in the Coroner's Court in Brisbane on 28 November 2016.[25] The article "The day my friend Hamid Kehazaei died",[26] written by Behrouz Boochani, tells the story of Kehazaei's death.

2015: hunger strike; PM Tony Abbott speaks[edit]

In January 2015, up to 500 men went on a hunger strike, barricading themselves in the camp, with at least 20 men sewing their lips together in protest.[27] This was met with force.[28] In March 2015, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he was "sick of being lectured" by the UN over Australia's treatment of asylum seekers, reiterating that its policy saves lives at sea.[11]

April 2016: declared illegal by PNG court[edit]

On 26 April 2016, the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea found that the Centre breached the PNG constitution's right to personal liberty, and was thus illegal.[29] It said:

Late on 27 April 2016, Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O'Neill announced that the processing centre would be closed, saying his government "will immediately ask the Australian Government to make alternative arrangements for the asylum seekers" and that "we did not anticipate the asylum seekers to be kept as long as they have been at the Manus Centre." He said that Papua New Guinea was proud to play an important role in stopping the loss of life due to people smuggling. O'Neill said negotiations with Australia would focus on the timeframe for the closure and for the settlement of legitimate refugees interested in staying in Papua New Guinea.[31]

Nov-Dec 2016: US resettlement deal and death of another detainee[edit]

In November 2016 it was announced that a deal had been made with the United States to resettle people held in detention on Manus (and Nauru) Islands.[32] Details were not been made public, but the US would determine the total number of refugees it would take, eligible applicants still needing to clear US authorities’ "extreme vetting" procedures.[33]

In December, 27-year-old Sudanese refugee Faysal Ishal Ahmed, allegedly ill for months, died after suffering a seizure and a fall.[11]

April 2017: PNG Defence Force attack[edit]

On 14 April 2017, asylum seekers and centre staff alleged they had been shot at by locals. Ray Numa, Chief of Staff of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force, confirmed that staff at Lombrum Naval Base were investigating the involvement of PNG defence personnel in the attacks, stressing that misuse of weapons was a serious breach of military discipline, and that the police would prosecute any members breaching civil laws.[34] Australian authorities later confirmed that nine people were injured when PNGDF personnel had fired "many" shots into the compound, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's government claiming that the incident was sparked by locals' anger over claims that a boy had been led towards the centre by asylum seekers, but this version was disputed by PNG Police Commissioner David Yapu, who said that nothing had happened to the boy.[11]

June 2017: AU$70m class action suit settlement[edit]

A class action suit on behalf of persons detained on Manus Island from 21 November 2012 until 19 December 2014, and 21 November 2012 until 12 May 2016 was brought by lead plaintiff Majid Karami Kamasaee against the Commonwealth of Australia, G4S Australia and Broadspectrum.[35] The claim was in negligence and false imprisonment. Kamasaee was represented by law firm Slater and Gordon.[36]

Slater and Gordon reached a settlement with the Commonwealth of Australia, G4S Australia and Broadspectrum on 14 June 2017 for $70 million plus costs (estimated at $20 million), with no admission of liability.[37] Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the settlement was not an admission of liability and the Commonwealth strongly refuted and denied the claims brought in the class action.[38]

Aug-Oct 2017: two deaths; US takes first refugees[edit]

On 7 August 2017 Iranian asylum seeker Hamed Shamshiripour was found dead in Lorengau. He was known to have a history of mental illness and refugee advocates had been trying to get help for him.[39]

In September 2017, the US accepted 22 refugees from Manus Island, its first intake under the resettlement deal,[11] with others apparently taking the number up to 54.[33]

On 2 October 2017, 32-year-old Sri Lankan Tamil, Rajeev Rajendran, was found dead on the grounds of the Lorengau hospital, a suspected suicide.[11][40]

31 Oct 2017: closure of centre[edit]

The centre was formally closed on 31 October 2017.[41] However, nearly 600 men refused to leave the centre, citing fears for their safety amid hostile locals.[42] A notice posted during the night by PNG Immigration authorities said "The Manus RPC will close at 5 pm today" (31 October), and that all power, water and food supply would cease.[43] The PNG military took control of the area.[44] Alternative accommodation had been provided at the East Lorengau Refugee Transit Centre and West Lorengau Haus.[45]

On 22 November 2017, Papua New Guinea Police moved in to try to get the more than 350 men remaining in the centre to leave.[46] By 23 November 2017, all remaining men had been removed, more than 300 by force, to new accommodation.[47]

Detainee Behrouz Boochani wrote of what was happening and of his fear during the siege that followed the closure, as well as the articles he wrote for The Guardian at the time, amongst other things, in WhatsApp messages to translator and friend Omid Tofighian, published in full online.[48] The messages were eventually published in the book No Friend But the Mountains.

2018: more US resettlement; another death[edit]

On 23 January 2018, a second group of 54 refugees left for the US.[49][33] Detainee Behrouz Boochani wrote of what was happening and of his fear during the siege that followed the closure, as well as the articles he wrote for The Guardian at the time, amongst other things, in WhatsApp messages to translator and friend Omid Tofighian, published in full online.[50] The messages were eventually published in the book No Friend But the Mountains.

New Zealand has repeatedly offered to accept 150 refugees, but Australia has so far opposed this.[51]

After a long history of mental illness, 52-year-old Rohingya, Salim, died on 22 May 2018.[40]

February 2019: "Medevac" bill[edit]

On 13 February 2019, a bill which became known as the "Medevac bill" was narrowly passed by the Australian parliament, allowing doctors to have more say in the process by which asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru may be brought to the mainland for treatment. The approval of two doctors is required, but approval may still be overridden by the home affairs minister in one of three areas. Human rights advocates hailed the decision, with one calling it a “tipping point as a country”, with the weight of public opinion believing that sick people need treatment.[52][53][54]

March 2019: Court action against PNG government[edit]

In March 2019, an action was launched in the Supreme Court of PNG by a group of asylum seekers who will argue that they are still being imprisoned, despite no longer being confined to the detention centre. Referring to the 2016 ruling by the Supreme Court that their detention was illegal, lawyer Ben Lomai said that the current situation, with no time frame given as to how long they will be there, amounts to detention. They will also be asking for the men to be given travel documents which will allow them to move around within the country and also overseas. At the moment they have to apply through an arduous process, cannot travel to other provinces and need permission to travel to Port Moresby or for any exceptions to the curfew which restricts them to the accommodation centres at night.[55]

There is confusion about the application of Medevac bill. A Sri Lankan refugee reported that self-harm is a regular occurrence. Signs had gone up around the camp saying that any medical evacuations will be temporary only, that Christmas Island had been reopened and that none of them would ever settle in Australia.[55] The unsigned notification was posted by Behrouz Boochani on Twitter.[56]

Numbers[edit]

Chart of the centre's population at the end of each month since the commencement of Operation Sovereign Borders to October 2017.

As of 31 October 2017, there were 690 asylum seekers held in the processing centre.[57] The highest population was 1,353 in January 2014.[58] On 1 March 2017, it was reported that some were choosing to return to their countries of origin in response to offers of up to A$25,000 from the Australian government to leave voluntarily.[59] The centre was closed formally on 31 October 2017, but hundreds of detainees refused to leave. On 23 November 2017, all remaining men at the centre were moved to new accommodation.[47]

In February 2019, a home affairs spokesman said that there were 422 people housed at the three camps – 213 at East Lorengau, 111 at West Lorengau and 98 asylum seekers at Hillside Haus.[60]

Contractor services controversies[edit]

Before Paladin[edit]

G4S was responsible for security on Manus for a six-month period leading up to the 2014 riot during which Reza Barati was killed. The two guards employed by this company who were allegedly partly responsible for Barati's death have never been brought to justice. The next contract was with Transfield (which afterwards changed its name to Broadspectrum after its founders withdrew its rights to use the name "Transfield", citing concerns over its management of offshore detention centres).[61] They were responsible for providing food and welfare services; while the security company Wilson took over from G4S. Wilson played a major role in suppressing the January 2015 hunger strike undertaken by 800 refugees. In November 2017, after the closure of the detention centre, Broadspectrum and Wilson left Manus, at the beginning of the 23-day siege, leaving detainees without water and food.[62]

Paladin[edit]

In January 2018 home affairs minister Peter Dutton refused an order from the Senate to release documents relating to the health, construction and security services for Manus. One of the contracts causing controversy was that signed with security firm Paladin Solutions, a group run by two Australians,[60] which was earning AU$72m for providing security for four months (about AU$585,000 a day). There was at the time a dispute with a local security firm, Kingfisher, who thought that they should have been given the contract.[63]

In February 2019, the Australian government extended its contract with Paladin, promising an extra $109 million, to provide maintenance and other services to the East Lorengau Transit Centre. This made the Paladin Group one of the biggest government contractors in Australia, at AU$423 million for its 22 months of work on Manus. Asylum seekers in the centre reported that maintenance was very poor, and a July 2018 report UNHCR noted below-standard facilities, leaking pipes and showers not working in East Lorengau, although there had been improvements in the other camps.[60] It was reported that the government had not run an open tender process for contracts worth AU$423 million to provide security for the asylum seekers, [64] and further that Paladin had left a number of bad debts and failed contracts across Asia and had moved ownership of its Australian entity from Hong Kong to Singapore. Peter Dutton sought to distance himself, saying that he had "no sight" of the tender process. The Australian Financial Review calculated that the daily cost per detainee of the service was more than double the rate for a suite in a 5-star hotel with views of Sydney Harbour.[65]

Asylum seekers on Manus said that Paladin staff appeared to do little but check IDs and sit at the front gate, with mostly poorly paid local staff working at the centre and security issues being attended to by PNG police. On 18 February 2019, the PNG government, which had had no involvement in awarding the contract, signalled an intention to raise concerns about Paladin with the Australian government. The PNG immigration minister confirmed that they had cancelled the visa of one of Paladin’s directors for using local labour, as per the government's stated position. Australian Home Affairs Secretary, Michael Pezzullo, said that the tender had required a tight turnaround after PNG unexpectedly withdrew its provision of service in July. Pezzullo said he would have preferred to use an open tender.[66]

On 26 February 2019, local employees of Paladin went on strike, saying that they were now being treated unfairly, being underpaid (at A$2-A$3 an hour) with no overtime paid for shifts of up to 12 hours, and that those who had worked for previous contractor Broadspectrum had had their pay cut. In addition, none of them had job security.[67]

Human rights issues[edit]

According to PEN International, "Manus Island has become notorious for its ill-treatment of detainees where violence, sexual abuse and self-harm are reportedly common".[1]

Secrecy provisions in law[edit]

In 2014 the National Security Legislation Amendment Act (No. 1) made it a crime, punishable with up to a 10-year prison sentence, to disclose any special intelligence operation, including relating to asylum seekers. This provided little protection to journalists seeking to report on information from whistle-blowers.[68] It caused professional journalists as well as teachers, and health professionals employed in these detention centres, to be silenced.[1] Journalists were prevented from entering or reporting and staff members were gagged under draconian employment contracts that prevented them from speaking about anything happening in Australia’s offshore detention centre, under threat of a prison sentence.[69]

The Secrecy and Disclosure Provisions of the 1 July 2015 Australian Border Force Act ruled that workers who spoke of any incidents from within one of the centres would receive a 2-year prison sentence. This was later watered down in amendments put forward by Peter Dutton in August 2017, after doctors and other health professionals had mounted a high court challenge.[70] The amendments would apply retrospectively and stipulated that the secrecy provision would only apply to information that could compromise Australia’s security, defence or international relations, interfere with criminal investigations offences, or affect sensitive personal or commercial matters.[71]

Human rights defenders win awards[edit]

Two voices have been prominent amongst detainees in publicising the plight of the asylum seekers from the island itself: Iranian journalist Behrouz Boochani and Zaghawa Sudanese man Abdul Aziz Muhamat,[72] also known as Aziz.[51]

Boochani won a a top Australian literary award for his novel No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison in January 2019.

On 13 February 2019, Aziz won the 2019 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, which is given to human rights defenders who show deep commitment to their work at great personal risk; it also helps to provide protection through increased international recognition for the winner. He was allowed to travel to Geneva in Switzerland to accept the award.[73] Aziz has spoken to international media and tweets regularly from the island, shedding light on the what life is like for those in offshore detention. He has sent almost 4,000 voice messages chronicling his experiences for the award-winning Guardian Australia-published podcast The Messenger.[74]

Aziz has been a community leader for the Sudanese detainees on Manus. He participated in the 2015 hunger strike and was taken to the Lorengau jail (as was Boochani[28]), where he was held without charge. He has helped to prepare other detainees’ legal challenges to their ongoing detention in Australian and PNG courts. He has also spoken out about the conditions in the centre with news outlets such as CNN, Al Jazeera, and the Guardian.[72] He has advocated for humane living conditions and adequate medical care. He was one of the leaders of the peaceful resistance to being removed from the centre when it was closed.[51]

He was granted refugee status in 2015, but he has not found a host country yet. He continues to fight to secure settlement in a third country of all refugees and asylum seekers currently in limbo as a result of Australia's offshore detention policy. [51]

In art and literature[edit]

Behrouz Boochani's award-winning memoir, No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison (2018), is an autobiographical account of his perilous journey from Indonesia to Christmas Island and thence to Manus, and tells of what life is like for the detained men.[75]

Boochani also collaborated with Iranian-born Melbourne photographer Hoda Afshar on a two-channel video work, Remain, which includes spoken poetry by him and Iranian poet Bijan Elahi. Afshar describes her method as "staged documentary", in which the men on the island are able to "re-enact their narratives with their own bodies and [gives] them autonomy to narrate their own stories." The video was shown as part of the Primavera 2018 exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia in Sydney, from 9 November 2018 to 3 February 2019. Both Afshar and Boochani believe that art can hit home in a more powerful way, after the public has become immune to images of and journalism about suffering.[76][77][78]

A photograph taken by Afshar entitled "Portrait of Behrouz Boochani, Manus Island" as part of her work for Remain was awarded the prestigious William and Winifred Bowness Photography Prize by the Monash Gallery of Art in October 2018, as well as the Australia People's Choice Award. The photograph was described as having "immense visual, political and emotional presence".[79][80] The subject of the photograph sees in it "an image of a human being that has been stripped of his identity, personhood and humanity...degraded by other human beings, tortured and deprived of all his human rights".[81]

The play Manus, written by playwright Nazanin Sahamizadeh in 2017,[82] tells the story of eight Iranians, including Boochani, who fled Iran for Australia and were detained on Manus. It relates some of the stories of their lives in Iran, their trip in leaky boats from Indonesia and their experiences in detention, including details of the 2014 riot and killing of Reza Barati. It was performed in Tehran in February-March 2017, running for a month in the Qashqai Hall of the City Theatre Complex and attended by nearly 3000 people,[83] including Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, and Australian diplomats.[84] It was also performed in two cities in Bangladesh in October 2017, at the Chittagong Shilpakala Academy in Chittagong and in Dhaka. The playwright Sahamizadeh said it was performed there as a part of its international tour to express compassion and solidarity with Rohingya refugees from Myanmar who had sought protection in Bangladesh recently.[85] It was directed by the author and produced by the Tehran-based Verbatim Theatre Group at the Adelaide Festival in March 2019.[86][87][88][89][90]

In 2018 an ex-soldier and former security guard for G4S, writing under the pseudonym Michael Coates, published a book entitled Manus Days: The Untold Story of Manus Island, published by Connor Court Publishing and with a foreword written by Miranda Devine.[91] The author writes about ethnic tensions, claiming that the unrest was mostly fomented by Iranian detainees, and of the violent riots of 2014 (in which two security guards were implicated but never brought to justice in the muder of Reza Barati), when he was working as a member of the Emergency Response Team.[92]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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Images relating to Manus[edit]

Coordinates: 2°2′16″S 147°22′9″E / 2.03778°S 147.36917°E / -2.03778; 147.36917