26 May 2017

Manus detainees want NZ asylum as PNG 'not safe'

4:59 pm on 26 May 2017

Men detained by Australia on Manus Island say they requested asylum from New Zealand as it is not safe for them to settle in Papua New Guinea.

Displaced by war and discrimination, the detainees are now facing deportation or destitution on the streets of PNG.

Benham Satah.

Benham Satah. Photo: ABC: Eric Tlozek

The 800-odd asylum seekers marooned on Manus Island arrived in Australia astern of a 50,000 strong regatta of boat people sailing through Asia, as governments in Canberra and Wellington supported wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A deadline was imposed on the human tide of illegal arrivals in July 2013, when Australia exported their problem to prison camps on impoverished Pacific islands as a regional response to the global refugee crisis.

The letter sent to the NZ PM by Manus Island asylum seekers.

The letter sent to the NZ PM by Manus Island asylum seekers. Photo: Behrouz Boochani

Indefinite refugee detention, however, was ruled illegal last year by the PNG Supreme Court, and the Manus camp will close at the end of October with its residents evicted.

Non-refugees will be repatriated, deported or possibly sent to Australia's other refugee processing centre on Nauru.

Those granted positive refugee status not taken in by the United States will be resettled in PNG or a third country.

Iranian asylum seeker Benham Satah was the first of 140 detainees to sign a letter to New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English.

"We fled our countries for safety but Australia exiled us to Manus Island and put our lives in more danger in a place that nobody is safe," said Mr Satah.

"We have been detained almost four years in very bad conditions so we are requesting the Right Honourable Bill English to allow us to go to New Zealand and process our claims and save us from these harsh conditions that we are going through."

Mr Satah said violent conflict with locals and two attacks on the detention centre deterred detainees from processing their refugee claims in PNG as they did not want to stay there.

"We never felt safe in this country. As you know we have been attacked a couple of times. While we have been here we have always heard about New Zealand who supports and respects refugees. We promise to contribute to the New Zealand community and to all New Zealand people."

Mr Satah defied intimidation to testify against two men convicted of murdering his roommate Reza Berati in an attack on the Manus detention centre in 2014.

"How can I live here when one of the convicted murderers is on the run for three months and he hasn't been arrested yet?"

An asylum-seeker holds a picture of Reza Berati who died at the detention centre

An asylum-seeker holds a picture of Reza Berati who died at the detention centre Photo: AAP

Australia declined a previous offer from New Zealand to take some of its offshore detainees, but Amnesty International's Grant Bayldon said the offer should be redirected to PNG.

"New Zealand has offered to take up to 150 from Australia from its offshore centres, but it seems the Australian government isn't going to do the right thing any time soon," said Mr Bayldon.

"And really it's time now when the New Zealand government needs to make that offer to the PNG government and to Nauru as well."

Grant Bayldon

Grant Bayldon Photo: Supplied

The PNG immigration minister Rimbink Pato would not confirm if his government would consider such an offer although he implied last month that third country resettlement was Australia's domain.

"Australia bares full responsibility for the asylum seekers," said Mr Pato.

"So, so long as the last person remains at the centre, so long as the last person cannot be resettled in the USA, resettled in a third country, or resettled in PNG, then obviously Australia will help us find a solution."

But Mr Bayldon said it was up to PNG to sort out Australia's mess.

"The Australian government has said that any deal would need to be between New Zealand and PNG or Nauru," he said.

"The PNG government clearly has a problem on its hands, it's not viable to resettle them there. The Australian government bares the primary responsibility to bring them back to Australia but, of course, if they don't do the right thing then other countries in the region, including New Zealand, should do the right thing."

The Manus Island detention centre.

The Manus Island detention centre. Photo: Behrouz Boochani

The danger the detainees face in the Manus Island community was highlighted this week by Kurdish journalist and detainee Behrouz Boochani, who reported that two refugees were recently mugged in nearby Lorengau town.

The men have been allowed out of the centre following the Supreme Court decision but only a handful have the confidence to visit the settlement.

"While an Iranian refugee was walking in Lorengau town he was threatened by two men. The men put a knife to his body and asked for money and his belongings," said Mr Boochani.

The assailants left the refugee alone after finding nothing of value in his pockets, but he said a refugee from Afghanistan was not so fortunate two weeks earlier.

"He was approached by men in Lorengau town who also threatened him with a knife. He told me 'I was walking in the street close to the ocean when three young men put a knife to my back and asked for money.' The refugee claims that they took one hundred Kina and his phone."

Mr Boochani said Manusian people were afraid of having 800 "strange" men forced to settle in their community.

The gradual closure of the Manus centre begins at the end of May before finishing on October 31.

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