Crisis imminent on Manus Island - UN

1:02 am on 19 October 2017

The United Nations has warned of an imminent humanitarian crisis if Australia fails to maintain essential services for Manus Island detainees after their Papua New Guinea detention centre is closed.

An image from the 78th day of protest in the Manus detention centre.

An image from the 78th day of protest in the Manus detention centre. Photo: supplied

Doctors, detainees and local Manusians say the lack of healthcare on the island could lead to more deaths.

"Gather your belongings, pack your bags, prepare to leave," that is the message Australia has given to about 800 male asylum seekers and refugees it has detained for four years on Manus Island.

Three buildings in nearby Lorengau town are earmarked to receive the men, but the UN said local medical services were overstretched and unable to meet their needs.

Barri Phatarfod

Barri Phatarfod Photo: Doctors for Refugees

Doctors for Refugees president Barri Phatarfod said healthcare in the town was inadequate for traumatised refugees and violence which might arise.

"It's a recipe for disaster. We've got an absolutely stretched PNG medical service. Don't forget we're dealing with an already highly traumatised group of people who have escaped war, torture and persecution in their countries of origin.

"We've got a hostile local population, who have already perpetrated a number of attacks on the refugees and are going to have yet more reasons to do so, if they perceive that the refugees are getting better treatment than they are."

The recently formed Manus Alliance Against Human Rights Abuse is a group of locals advocating for the detainees.

Its deputy chair Ben Wamoi said Manusians feared their basic healthcare centre could not cope with refugees prone to self harm and suicide.

"Manus does not have the capacity to keep a 24 hour monitoring and surveillance on people that are mentally affected. If this is the kind of people that are coming into our society, what guarantee is there that they will be protected and not hurt themselves?

"Right now our hospital is starved of basic goods, basic equipment, implements and drugs. And it's understaffed. So who is going to look after these people?"

Kurdish journalist and detainee Behrouz Boochani said the detention centre's healthcare provider had dispensed a month's worth of medication to sick men in preparation for its departure.

An image from the 75th day of protest at the Manus detention centre.

An image from the 75th day of protest at the Manus detention centre. Photo: supplied

"IHMS, which is the company providing medical treatment for the refugees, will leave Manus and we are very worried about our health," he said.

"There are a lot of refugees who are sick in Manus detention, so we are worried and we don't know how they want to provide medical treatment and give medication."

Ben Wamoi

Ben Wamoi Photo: Facebook

But in a statement, IHMS said it would continue to deliver health services at the East Lorengau Refugee Transit Centre, and to provide health liaison services to those refugees located in Port Moresby, from November 1.

That is cold comfort, according to Dr Phatarfod, coming from a company that has just heaped psychoactive drugs on sick men.

"Some of these people are in fact on 50 separate tablets a day. So when you have all of those tablets for 28 days, and they're depressed and they're suicidal its such gross irresponsibility to hand very vulnerable, severely traumatised men that many medications and not foresee that there is going to be potentially a catastrophic outcome."

Dr Phatarfod said unethical conditions reported in Australia's offshore detention centre's was making the recruitment of doctors difficult.