“I BEG YOU today on behalf of all those refugees and asylum seekers, please open your hearts, show some kindness and compassion and humanity,” pleads Imran Mohammad, a 22-year-old Rohingya refugee in Australian immigration detention on Manus Island.
Via a joint statement, human rights groups have again demanded the Australian government close its detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and bring refugees to safety in Australia, as the Immigration Department faces a Senate committee on Monday.
“Every day, I get several messages about this, desperate calls for help. They say ‘Do not leave us here to die’,” said Sister Jane Keogh, a nun in Canberra who added her voice to the statement.
“Australia has the capacity, the ability, the history and the heart to do the right thing and to offer protection to people who are seeking safety.”
Revelations of abuse at Australia’s offshore processing facilities for asylum seekers, including of children, on the tiny Pacific state of Nauru and Manus Island have garnered sustained condemnation from human rights groups and the United Nations.
Amnesty International, the Refugee Council of Australia and the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) on Sunday pointed to a shooting on Manus Island on Good Friday to highlight “ongoing risk to people’s lives” in detention.
“We will not stand by and allow our government to sweep their responsibility under the carpet,” said the statement.
The HRLC’s Daniel Webb said he had observed moves to close the Manus Island Camp, but that the government had not put in place any measures to ensure the future safety of its 850 inhabitants.
“This isn’t about just tearing down the fences, it’s about finding a safe and viable way forward for the men trapped inside,” Webb said. “Every single one of these men deserves the chance to finally start rebuilding their lives in safety.”
The groups have issued a joint statement and will hold a press conference on Monday, ahead of the Immigration Department’s appearance at Budget Estimates – a process whereby Australia’s government executive is held accountable by parliamentarians.
Australia has said the Manus Island centre will close by October, after the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court found imprisoning refugees was illegal. Nauru’s immigration detention centre will remain open indefinitely, however.
“Enough is enough, the truth is out in plain sight and questions must be answered. The Australian Government has designed a deliberately abusive system, intended to harm people,” Amnesty International refugee coordinator Graham Thom said.
“Such a callous indifference to the safety and well-being of refugees puts them at great risk.”
Under a deal inked in the final months of Barack Obama’s presidency – labelled “dumb” by current President Donald Trump – the United States will resettle 1,250 asylum seekers held in Australia’s offshore processing camps in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.
According to the HRLC, 1,600 people have registered their interest to resettle in the US, but given there are more than 2000 people in detention, “several hundred and possibly up to 1,000 people are left with no solution for safety.”
“Hopefully the US deal will be a lifeline for some, but it won’t be enough to ensure safety for all. It’s not good enough to just leave innocent people trapped in limbo, in unsafe conditions forever,” Webb said.
“We fear for those who will be left behind as there is no safety and structure for refugees to be resettled [in Papua New Guinea]. All we want is a life we can create in safety,” Imran said.
Refugee Council director Tim O’Connor said: “The immediate solution is to bring all those we have sent to Nauru and Manus to Australia immediately, it’s the fairest and quickest way to prevent another tragedy.”