Manus Island: Four Asylum Seekers Placed In Solitary Confinement As Tensions Escalate
Amid escalating tensions inside the Manus Island detention centre, four men have been taken to the notorious “Chauka” solitary confinement unit, two for the second time since July when the men – who say they witnessed the death of Reza Barati – claim they were tied to chairs and beaten.
An urgent petition to the UN special rapporteurs on human rights, seen by Guardian Australia, was lodged overnight by refugee advocates. It describes multiple reports from staff and detainees who say the men were taken to Chauka. It urges the special rapporteurs intervene and raise the matter with the Australian government.
The France-based International Federation for Human Rights has also been contacted.
More than 200 detainees are now allegedly receiving medical treatment after going on hunger strike, and there are reports security police have begun rounding people up in a bid to end the ongoing protest.Hunger strikers in the Manus Island detention centre. Photograph: Supplied
ABC News reports that asylum seekers have barricaded the Delta and Oscar compounds with boxes and are preventing staff from entering.
The acting prime minister, Warren Truss, said on Sunday he could not confirm reports but immigration minister Peter Dutton would be seeking to do so.
“Minister Dutton has made a number of statements about what he believes to be happening at the present time. The flow of information is not always reliable,” said Truss in Brisbane.
“I wish that there weren’t tensions on those islands, but I wish the people weren’t there in the first place,” he said. “I wish we didn’t have a situation where people have paid people smugglers to try and come to this country to get around our immigration laws.”
He said the government wanted to ensure detainees were appropriately cared for, but reiterated that people who arrived by boat without a visa would not be resettled in Australia.
Ben Pynt of the advocacy group Humanitarian Research Partners, told Guardian Australia multiple separate reports had come in that the two men were taken mid-Saturday morning after going for a medical appointment.
In similar circumstances another two detainees from Foxtrot compound were taken on Saturday night.
Pynt said the first two men fear for their safety because they witnessed Barati’s death more than a year ago, allegedly at the hands of PNG nationals who invaded the centre and attacked detainees.
They also believe they are targeted because they are seen as instigators of unrest in the centre. In these most recent disturbances one has taken part in the hunger strike but the other has not been involved at all, they claim.
Chauka is a solitary confinement unit inside Manus Island detention centre. It is not on official infrastructure maps. It consists of three shipping containers arranged in a triangle, each with just a single bed and no windows. It has been criticised by human rights advocates and doctors who say the place is used for punishment and causes psychological harm.
The two men taken there on Saturday allege that they were cable-tied to chairs and beaten during their last stint inside Chauka in July, and forced to sign documents withdrawing their witness accounts of Barati’s death. The allegations are also detailed in the submission to the special rapporteurs. The Australian federal police declined to investigate in July, saying it was a matter for PNG police.
Dutton’s office has not returned a call for comment.
More than 200 asylum seekers in Mike compound are receiving medical care after beginning a hunger strike on Tuesday, according to the Refugee Action Coalition. Most are being treated for dehydration.
A detainee said in a text message that others had been beaten by guards while being transported in cars, and he alleges poor medical care.
Protests have spread to other compounds and those not on hunger strike spent Friday night clapping and cheering and shouting “What do we want? Freedom.”
They are protesting against the length of their detention, the conditions under which they are being held, and against the threat of being forcibly sent to live in the PNG community, where they fear they will be attacked.
Some of the men protesting now have been in detention for 18 months and want to be handed over the UN. Others wish to be sent to Australia where they have families – an event which the government has promised will never happen.
A letter released by the Refugee Action Coalition purports to be signed by more than 80 detainees inside Foxtrot compound, expressing their fears of resettlement in PNG. It reads in part:
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. Today we consider us to be hostage for the Australian government so they can deter others not to come to Australia.
Video seen by Guardian Australia on Friday shows PNG riot police walking between the compounds and there were unconfirmed reports of clashes between police, locals and detainees.
However a PNG government spokesman told Guardian Australia on Friday evening “it was nothing like that”.
He said no police had entered the detention centre but that amid the heightened tensions “security had gone in with workers”.
He had not seen the images from Manus Island, but said a senior person from there had conveyed the information. “It wasn’t extraordinary but of course with the tension there as we know, I think it was just extra precautions.”
Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul said “there needs to be urgent discussions about possible third country resettlement”.
“The asylum seekers are asking for the UNHCR to be involved with resettlement discussions. The ball is in the minister’s court. He can keep pretending that the protests aren’t happening or he can act to prevent the unfolding disaster.”
For two days last week the immigration minister Peter Dutton denied there was a hunger strike at the Manus Island facility.
On Friday he accused advocates of “coaching” asylum seekers to self-harm and create “volatile” situations. The unsubstantiated accusation was denied by advocates, one of whom provided messages showing a conversation with a detainee in which he tried to discourage the hunger strike.
That night, members of the Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network (Dassan) held an overnight vigil outside the Darwin offices of the Department of Immigration.
Emma Murphy from Dasaan denied Dutton’s claims of “coaching”.
“I can’t imagine anybody advocating anything that’s going to cause harm to such vulnerable people, such desperate people,” she told Guardian Australia.
“I think it’s sort of taking away from the issue which is that some of these people have been in detention for hundreds of days, and they are at their wit’s ends. The only thing they have any autonomy over is their body, which they are now harming and which is tragic. I think we need to talk about those push factors that are making them so that.”
Murphy said the group of about a dozen protesters were taking the action to send a message to detainees not to hurt themselves.
“They are doing such extreme things but they’ve already done the extreme thing of having to seek refuge and run for their lives to come here, that’s enough,” she said.
“We can have an uncomfortable night, we can risk the weather and the mosquitoes to show them that they are supported by people in the community and they don’t need to be doing this to themselves. We can take up the fight for them ... We just want them to be safe and know there is hope.”
Natasha Blucher said members of the organisation were “highly distressed” at news of the hunger strike. “We wish to demonstrate to those people that we are willing to go to great lengths to fight the injustices that they’re currently experiencing by staying here until dawn to convince themselves not to harm themselves anymore and to let us do the fighting,” she told Guardian Australia.
The opposition leader, Bill Shorten, said most Australians were “sick and tired of the culture of secrecy surrounding Manus Island”.
“We’ve got to have the right policies in terms of deterring people smugglers, but people who come into the care of Australia must be treated properly. It is long overdue for the Liberal government in Canberra to make it very clear just what exactly is happening on Manus Island.”
Asked what responsibility Labor should take for the situation on Manus Island, given the former government reopened the centre, Shorten said: “The Abbott government’s now been in power from 2013 to 2015; I don’t think it’s good enough for the Abbott government to keep blaming everyone else in the past for what’s happening now.”