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Death, Beatings Highlight the Horrors of Australia's Manus Island Refugee Detention Centre

Gosford Anglican Church

Gosford Anglican Church message to Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton. Courtesy Fr Rod Bower's Twitter account

A number of disturbing cases concerning the offshore Asylum Seeker Detention Centre on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island have recently captured online attention in Australia and beyond.

As reported in an earlier post, since 2013 asylum seekers arriving by boat without a valid visa are sent to offshore centres on Manus Island and Nauru. There is currently no possibility of being allowed to settle in Australia.

The Australian government announced in August 2016 that it intends to close the Manus centre, but the facility continues to generate controversy, most recently with the death of a Sudanese asylum seeker and the beating of two Iranian asylum seekers allegedly by police.

Faysal Ishak Ahmed from Sudan died on Christmas Eve in the Australian city of Brisbane following his evacuation there from Manus. Many people have blamed poor medical attention on Manus for his death. A number of vigils and protests have taken place:

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton copped much of the criticism. One Twitter user compared it to the case of Ms Dhu, an Aboriginal woman who recently died in police custody:

The arrest of two Iranian asylum seekers on New Years Eve has also resulted in accusations of police brutality:

Iranian journalist and fellow asylum seeker Behrouz Boochani has been trying to cover the story on his Facebook account:

Manus prison.I just visited the refugees who were beaten by PNG immigration yesterday. They are in police detention now. I could only talk with them behind the wire for a few minutes because the guard did not allow me to see them. The refugees were so scared and distressed and they said the police did not give them any food or medical treatment. Mohammad is in a critical situation and said he is pissing blood and has stomach pains. Some local people gave them food but Mohammad vomited the food and Mehdi has started to hunger strike. He has pain in his hand and thinks his hand is broken. The detention cell is such a dirty place and they sleep on the concrete floor. Their wounds are getting infected.Here is two new photos from them

Manus island refugees

Manus island refugees beaten by authorities. Courtesy Behrouz Boochani Facebook page

‘Close this foul chapter that stains Australia’

PEN International, defender of freedom of expression, has called on the Australian government to:

end the offshore processing of asylum seekers in Nauru and Manaus, and ensure that asylum seekers and those in immigration detention in offshore processing centres, including Behrouz Boochani, are provided with adequate legal protection in line with Australia’s commitments under international law.

The detention centres have received critical attention from world media, especially The New York Times. Roger Cohen's ‘Broken Men in Paradise’ was tweeted numerous times. Cartoonist Gavin Aung Than was one of those:

Part of Behrouz Boochani's own refugee drama is covered in this New York Times article.

A deal was announced in November 2016 with the United States to resettle some of the successful asylum applicants, but it has yet to be implemented. Many question whether the incoming Trump administration will overturn the agreement.

Deal or no deal, the long-term fate of those who do not resettle in the U.S. is unclear. According to the independent non-profit Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, possibilities may include returning to their home country or a 20-year visa for Nauru.

On a brighter note, there has been a positive response to a crowdfunding appeal for one Manus detainee, made by Tasmanian academic Helen Merrick and refugee advocate Anne Moon.

On the crowdfunding site Chuffed, Merrick and Moon said the money would be used to hire legal representation for a man who has been maintaining a record of abuse and harassment that he has witnessed while in detention and now is “falsely accused and charged with a crime”. So far, the campaign has raised AUS $3,155 of its $4,500 goal.

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