On 19 January Australians woke to the news that up to 700 detainees on Manus Island had joined a hunger strike over the Federal Government’s decision to release 50 asylum seekers into the PNG community.
The Refugee Action Coalition (RAC) put out a detailed media release about the situation, alleging that drinking water was being withheld by Transfield, the organisation managing the detention centre.
“They (Transfield) are trying to provoke a confrontation,” RAC quoted an asylum seeker as saying. “We are demanding that the forced transfer of refugees to Lorengau (the major town on the island) on 22 January be stopped. We need safe resettlement, but PNG is not safe.”
Since then there has been an array of contradictory media releases and news reports.
The Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton, put out two official media releases in that week, the first accusing ‘transferees’ of engaging in ‘aggressive behaviour’.
“I am aware of false and irresponsible claims being circulated by some advocates ,” Mr Dutton’s release said, “these claims undermine the ongoing work of staff to engage with transferees at the centre.”
The Age newspaper claimed the action had escalated after Mr Dutton stated on the previous Friday that the Manus Island detainees would “never arrive in Australia”.
In a follow up media release Mr Dutton commended the PNG government and Transfield for a “peaceful and measured approach to resolving ongoing unrest” at the detention centre.
“Yesterday’s (19 Jan) activity was the direct result of the irresponsible actions of some transferees which have undermined the security of the centre,” Mr Dutton said in the release.
“I would also like to note my extreme disappointment with some advocates who encouraged and fuelled this behaviour.”
That so-called ‘fuelling’ included the release of two very short videos of men desperately trying to access water from under the compound fence.
Since then two men, an Iranian engineer and a Pakistani human resources manager who have been found to be refugees by the Government, have moved to the new temporary accommodation in PNG’s first step to resettlement.
However, they will not be able to find jobs at Lorengau, having been told earlier in the year that those granted refugee status would have to find jobs elsewhere in PNG.
The ‘peaceful’ end to the unrest included arresting a number of detainees and holding them in the Lorengau jail.
A media statement on the RAC website issued on the day Crosslight went to press expressed concern for the welfare of up to 76 men being held at the jail.
“The Minister is refusing to comment on what is happening on Manus Island because the actions of the government cannot be defended,” Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for RAC, said.