Manus Island – the Guantanamo Bay of the Pacific

19 December 2013 |  by  |  Asylum Seekers
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Manus Island Detention Centre. © Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship via Getty Images

Manus Island Detention Centre. © Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship via Getty Images

We’re still to close the abomination that is Guantanamo Bay – yet on our back door we have our very own G Bay illegal detention centre.

It is on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, and has been paid for and sanctioned by the Australian Government.

The Manus Island detention centre holds around 1,100 asylum seekers in Delta, Foxtrot and Oscar compounds.

Guantanamo Bay has Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo and Foxtrot compounds.

Like their Manus counterparts, each compound was or is a living hell for each and every man detained within.

Both operate outside international human rights law.

Both are places of ill-treatment and/or torture, misery and ill-health.

Both condemn those incarcerated to lengthy periods without access to legal counsel and/or fair hearings.

Both did detain children.

Of the 779 detainees held in Guantanamo since 2002, only six have been convicted by military commission, four of whom pleaded guilty under plea trial arrangements.

Some 90% of all boat people arriving in Australian waters are later found to be refugees – that is they did indeed have a well founded fear of persecution and could not safely stay at home. There is no crime in “running for your lives” yet Australia is detaining those innocents, including children.

Why somebody might end up in G Bay or Manus Island, obviously from the figures above, has nothing to do with how guilty or innocent you are. Rather it has everything to do with political expediency, point-scoring and the demonization of human beings just like you or I – except they are in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Add in a healthy dose of fear mongering by politicians with an agenda to win at the polls and you have the perfect ingredients for the creation of such detention centres.

And if, like Australia, you figure amongst the world’s wealthiest countries – you also have the money to buy the compliance of neighbours to do what is Australia’s responsibility, the processing of asylum seekers.

Ah, if only Manus was a processing centre – sadly despite offshore processing centres costing the Australian tax-payer $1,000,000,000 for 2013-14 not one asylum seeker has been processed on Manus Island since it reopened. More details

This nightmare is one that has been created by successive Australian governments, all active participants in putting the boot into some of the world’s most vulnerable people to win votes.

All more than happy to at best misrepresent or at worst lie (let’s not forget the baby overboard debacle) as they decry ‘illegals’, “queue-jumpers” and boat-people.

Current Prime Minister Tony Abbott is shaping up to be the toughest yet on refugees and asylum seekers. 

How ironic then that Mr Abbott was also a boat person, arriving in Australia on board the good ship Oronsay as part of the Assisted Passage Migration Scheme (colloquially known as 10 Pound Poms).

Ah, I hear Mr Abbott say but that was legal. The same is also true of asylum seekers who have a legal right to claim asylum , irrespective of how they arrive in a country.

At a time when many (and presumably Mr Abbott) will be celebrating the birth of the world’s most famous refugee there is no room at the inn for potential refugees.

If Jesus was on earth today I have no doubt he’d be spending time with this generation’s “unclean” – refugees and asylum seekers.

If I could have one Christmas wish come true this year it would be that Tony Abott – himself a refugee – has a road to Damascus moment, realises it is unacceptable to persecute boat people and starts advocating for asylum seekers instead.

About the author

Margaret Taylor is Activism Support Manager at Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand.


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