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Communications at Manus restricted

Wednesday 21 January 2015 | Published in Regional


LORENGAU – A refugee advocate says asylum seekers on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island have been banned from using a phone and talking to their case workers.

This comes following a week of protests and unrest at the centre over plans to resettle asylum seekers on the island.

Ian Rintoul of the Refugee Action Coalition said 734 detainees remain on hunger strike and many are angry at suggestions that everything was calm.

He provided a letter from protestors in Foxtrot Compound declaring their protest would continue.

He said the recent protests included two people swallowing razor blades.

Rintoul said in reaction to the hunger strike, the authorities have now placed a ban on using the welfare phone in one compound.

Papua New Guinea’s Immigration Minister Rimbink Pato earlier told Radio New Zealand International his government was looking at restricting communications at the Manus Island asylum seeker detention centre.

He blamed the protests at the centre on refugee advocates, who he said had been stoking unrest and interfering in the resettlement process by spreading propaganda about resettlement in Papua New Guinea to asylum seekers.

He said communications restrictions could be implemented as a result.

“Nobody has access to the centre except the Papua New Guinea and the Australian governments, so with the internet and all the other access that is available, they’re directly linking with the asylum seekers,” Pato said.

“How we can control that information is also being addressed by the Australian government and the Papua New Guinea government so that the asylum seekers will get correct information that is in their best interests.”

The government of both Australia and Papua New Guinea were on Tuesday playing down the extent of the protests, which had been going for a week when guards entered the detention centre compound on Monday night.

However, conflicting accounts have emerged about how the protests came to an end.

Pato said his chief migration officer, Mataio Rabura, flew from the capital Port Moresby on Monday to negotiate the end of the blockade.

The minister said Rabura explained the resettlement process agreed between Canberra and Port Moresby and promised asylum seekers that those found to be refugees would be resettled.

“All I can say to you is that order has been restored, everything is under control and there was peace and calm,” Pato told Radio New Zealand International.

“The chief migration officer, because of the relative calmness of the situation, is returning as we speak.”

But this version of events was disputed by Ian Rintoul, the head of the Australia-based Refugee Action Coalition, who said that guards forcibly entered the compound and detained a number of people in order to end the blockade.

“There is no doubt that physical force was used,” Mr Rintoul said. “People across the road in Oscar Compound could see people being handcuffed and dragged across the ground.”

A video obtained by Radio New Zealand appeared to show guards in helmets and carrying riot shields entering the compound. Screaming, shouting and thumping can then be heard.

Rintoul said 58 people had been detained in a prison in the provincial capital, Lorengau, while other detainees have been transferred to an isolation unit located within the centre.

Hundreds of people remained on hunger strike, Rintoul said.

Both Papua New Guinea police and the camp’s operator, Transfield Services, did not respond to requests for comment.

Australia’s Asylum Seeker Resource Centre CEO, Kon Karapanagiotidis, said the protests showed no sign of abating despite the blockade’s end.

Karapanagiotidis said he feared the protests would again spill over into bloodshed, as happened last February when a 24-year-old Iranian asylum seeker, Reza Barati, was killed in a violent crackdown on unrest at the centre.

“Australia has killed more refugees than it has resettled in two years,” Karapanagiotidis said.

“What we see are men at breaking point which led to about 750 going on hunger strike, over 100 needing medical attention because of dehydration and hunger strike and then up to 58 in prison for peacefully protesting their indefinite detention in squalid conditions.”

Pato confirmed that asylum seekers had been moved to isolation although he did not have an exact number.

Karapanagiotidis blamed the uncertainty asylum seekers faced for the unrest.

He said that the detention centre had been open for two years and not a single asylum seeker had been resettled.

Immigration Minister Pato conceded that asylum seekers having to wait two years for their refugee determinations is too long.

However, he also says asylum seekers need to be more helpful.

“It’s been delayed in the sense that those who have been identified as genuine refugees have not moved on to the new East Lorengau centre, so consequently all the other determination assessments are read.

“But I have not been able to make any further determinations until we see a movement in the willingness of these asylum seekers to move.”