'Enough is enough' - Catholic church condemns Manus detention

10:20 am on 26 January 2019

More refugees detained on Manus Island will die in the coming days unless they are taken out of Papua New Guinea for medical treatment, the Catholic church says.

The sick refugee at Lorengau Hospital.

The sick refugee at Lorengau Hospital. Photo: Facebook

The general secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of PNG and Solomon Islands, Giorgio Licini, has just returned to Port Moresby from the island where he said three refugees attempted suicide during his two day visit.

"These self harm and suicide attempts, they are a daily occurrence," a tearful Fr Licini told RNZ Pacific.

"If nothing is done immediately we are going to have, in the next few weeks, people not only getting sick, seriously, not only getting crazy, completely, we are going to have people die."

Giorgio Licini.

Giorgio Licini. Photo: Facebook / Giorgio Licini

Fr Licini was allowed to visit about 600 refugees detained in three facilities in the island's main town, Lorengau.

Most have been detained on Manus for almost six years for trying to reach Australia by boat to seek asylum. Seven have died on Manus.

Upon his return to the PNG capital, Fr Licini visited about 20 Manus refugees at Pacific International Hospital (PIH) "in extremely serious conditions as far as their mental health is concerned".

At least two of them are on the verge of death, he said.

"There is an Iraqi who is refusing food and drink, he's almost unconscious... This guy, he's going in a few days."

Another man, who had swallowed "pieces of metal" and was unlikely to receive surgery at PIH, was among a number at the hospital who had given up and were "just waiting to die", he said.

Other refugees at PIH with complaints including kidney stones, respiratory and heart problems were "practically unattended".

"Pacific International Hospital is not equipped in any way for serious cases," Fr Licini warned.

"If you want to save their lives you have to take them to Australia or another country."

An x-ray showing the metal objects swallowed by a refugee.

An x-ray showing the metal objects swallowed by a refugee. Photo: Facebook / Giorgio Licini

While struggling to compose himself, the general secretary said he would soon write to the prime minister of PNG, Peter O'Neill.

"There is one and only one solution," he said. "For the prime minister of Papua New Guinea to tell the prime minister of Australia, either incoming or ongoing, that enough is enough.

"These people have paid a price that is beyond what humans can tolerate... They are giving up on their lives... This chapter has to close within the next few weeks or few months."

Back on Manus, a refugee advocate warned through social media that a refugee in Lorengau Hospital was likely to die.

The man, who had attempted suicide, was also refusing food and water.

Kurdish refugee Benham Satah said the facility where he was detained in Lorengau had become "exactly like a mental hospital".

"You need to be careful walking in the corridors," he said. "Nobody is mentally well and they have no control over their actions."

Where to get help

These are services across the Pacific for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

In Papua New Guinea:

Lifeline Port Moresby

675 326 0011

In Tonga:


23000 or


In Fiji:


+679 667 0565

In Samoa:


In New Zealand:

Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7)

Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)

Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz

What's Up: online chat (7pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 children's helpline (1pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-10pm weekends)

Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)

Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254

Healthline: 0800 611 116

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

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