Manus Island's 'social fabric broken'

9:15 am on 17 December 2018

The social fabric of Papua New Guinea's Manus Island has been broken by Australia detaining refugees there, a community leader says.

The daily protest in the detention centre, 10-11-17.

Photo: supplied

Ben Pokarup is secretary of the Maus Manus Development Forum and chair of the Manus Island Tourism Association.

Mr Pokarup said the refugees should be sent back to Australia and Manus Island should be compensated.

"The social fabric of our society has absolutely been broken. We need to tell the Australians to get this project out as soon as possible," he said.

Most damage done to the community was by the births of about 37 children to local women and refugee men, Mr Pokarup said.

The depressed economic state of Manus Province, which the leader said Australia had not done enough to help, had led local women into prostitution.

"Young girls have resorted to exchanging sex for money and phones, and other materials that can attract a young lady," Mr Pokarup said.

Ben Pokarup.

Ben Pokarup. Photo: Facebook / Ben Pokarup

Issuing some of the refugees with driver's licenses had also caused problems, he said, with a local woman killed this year in an accident involving a refugee driver, who police allege had been drinking.

"I was at the court house yesterday to witness cases that refugees violated traffic regulations and rules," Mr Pokarup said.

"But the cases were thrown out because there were no proper police reports to make sure they get the punishment for the offences they committed."

The refugees' plight, however, is not lost on Mr Pokarup, who says "the good thinking people of Manus" sympathise with about 600 men indefinitely detained there for almost six years.

"They are human beings and they are psychologically tormented. We cannot keep human beings with that kind of mental sickness. They need to go back to Australia."

The association of Manus with the controversial detention scheme had also destroyed the island's reputation in the eyes of the international community, according to the leader, limiting its potential as a tourism hub.

While acknowledging Australia had helped Manus to develop a tourism plan, Mr Pokarup said no one was interested in going to a place they understood as "a shit hole".

"Bird watching, surfing, island hopping, trekking, diving and snorkelling" are just some of the tourism activities available on Manus, which the leader said was owed assistance to develop "post-detention economic activities".

An island in Manus Province.

An island in Manus Province. Photo: PNG Tourism Promotion Authority

"When the agreed funds for the project came in it was a slap in our face," he said.

"The agreed funds were shared to other parts of Papua New Guinea and not to Manus. We got the crumbs."

Investment was not only needed to fulfil the province's tourism potential but also to develop sustainable projects in rural areas like rice and cocoa production, he said.

"And also the fishing industry. We have 40 percent of the total Pacific tuna rim right here on Manus Island."

Money was also owed the province to build roads and jetties, and for its health service to be "upgraded to an international level because we are hosting this international project".

"We need some post detention economic activities that must emerge and must be here to stay."

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