Backgrounder – By Marni Cordell, editor of New Matilda
A protest on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island was the final straw for asylum seekers who had been led to believe their asylum claims were being processed and questions about their fate would finally be answered, a local source has told New Matilda.
A fence was pulled down and asylum seekers beaten during the unrest at the Australian-run detention centre on the island, the source said.
“Many of [the detainees] have been injured by G4S in the fighting, and many of them have been beaten. We don’t know how bad, but a lot of them have been hurt.”
Frustration boiled over when detainees were stonewalled by immigration officials during a meeting in which they were supposed to learn where and when they would be resettled, according to NM’s source.
“What started the unrest was the fact that they did not get any answers from the Australian immigration. They did not answer any of their questions, they did not engage with them at all,” they said.
Australian immigration officials also allegedly told detainees two weeks ago that their limbo would soon be over.
“Two weeks ago immigration held a meeting with all the community leaders for each language group because they had many questions that weren’t being answered about the process [for assessing their asylum claims and resettlement].”
‘Back with answers’
“Immigration said they would come back with answers to their questions in about two weeks,” NM’s source said.
“[The detainees] said ‘well, if we don’t hear anything we’ll rip the fences down or we’ll cause other problems’.”
“[Sunday] was the deadline for that process.”
New Matilda understands that soon after this meeting a team of staff, employed by the Australian government, was flown in to start processing asylum claims.
We understand that dozens of interviews have now taken place, but that asylum claims have not yet been lodged. It’s unclear whether these claims will be lodged with the Australian government or the Papua New Guinea government.
It is our understanding that this is the first time claims have been processed at the centre since it was reopened in 2012.
Immigration officials again met with detainees at 2pm yesterday afternoon, the source said, but instead of answering questions, the Australians read from a piece of paper and refused to engage with detainees.
‘Read off paper”
“I don’t know why exactly they decided to read off a piece of paper and not give them any information,” the source said.
“Their frustration stems from the fact that no one is taking their questions seriously.”
According to Ian Rintoul, from the Refugee Action Collective, asylum seekers were told at yesterday’s meeting “that they would not be leaving Papua New Guinea”, and that if they wanted to go somewhere else other than PNG, “they would have to arrange this with other countries themselves”.
“The situation regarding Papua New Guinea remains unclear. The foreign minister told Parliament last week that there was no refugee visa class and that no decision had been made regarding resettlement in PNG,” Rintoul said.
“Citizenship for refugees is essentially impossible because of the restrictive rules regarding citizenship,” he said.
New Matilda has sought a response from the Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison.
Employees of G4S on Manus Island have been told to tell their families not to believe what has been reported in the media about riots on Manus Island.
In a “staff broadcast” sent out at lunchtime on Monday by senior human resources officer Antoinette Saxon, G4S staff members were told, “When communicating to your families please keep it short and simple”.
“Advise your loved ones that everyone is safe and accounted for and the centre is calm and you are completely okay,” the email says. “Also convey that they should not believe what is in the media.”
“Confidentiality must be at a premium and advise your families as such,” the directive says.
Marni Cordell is editor of New Matilda and has been closely monitoring the asylum seekers situation.