Close Manus Detention centre, protect asylum seekers: Amnesty International & HRLC tell Senate

Amnesty International’s Pacific Researcher, Kate Schuetze, Government Relations Adviser Sophie Nicolle and the Human Rights Law Centre’s Director of Legal Advocacy, Daniel Webb, have appeared at the Senate, Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee Inquiry into the events that occurred on Manus Island in February of this year that left one asylum seeker dead.

Both Ms Schuetze and Mr Webb, who visited the Manus Island Offshore Processing Centre with the Papua New Guinea National Court Inquiry in March 2014, presented evidence based on their tour of the centre following the violence, including first-hand accounts from asylum seekers and staff.

“Australia and PNG share responsibility for the situation at the centre and the failure to protect detainee,” said Sophie Nicolle.  “Our timelines of events, supported by the findings of the Cornall Report, shows asylum seekers, after weeks of protesting, were violently attacked by private security guards, local police and other contractors working at the centre.”

Amnesty International foreshadowed that the policy of offshore detention, as well as the situation within the centre, including the uncertainty around processing and resettlement, was ‘breaking’ those detained at the centre.

The HRLC’s Director of Legal Advocacy, Daniel Webb, said that leaving people in limbo causes harm and leads to unrest.

“Successive governments have described Manus as a processing centre and the agreement underpinning it as a ‘Regional Resettlement Agreement’, but the inescapable fact is that in 19 months, more asylum seekers have been killed and injured on Manus than have been processed and resettled,” said Mr Webb.

Amnesty International found the conditions at Manus and the uncertainty was resulting in severe anxiety for asylum seekers. Some asylum seekers reported not feeling safe within the centre and treatment by staff was at times inappropriate and discriminatory.

Amnesty International has concerns that the Cornall Report as well as the government response, fails to allocate any responsibility or address immediate safety concerns of asylum seekers. Instead, the protest behaviour of the detainees is blamed for the escalation of violence. Protest does not warrant the lethal use of force.

The committee is also considering Australia’s responsibility for harm suffered by those on Manus. Both Amnesty International and HRLC acknowledged that Australia’s human rights obligations do not end at its borders.

“Australia’s conduct is both unlawful and harmful. The geographic location of that conduct does not absolve Australia of responsibility for it,” said Mr Webb.

Amnesty International and the HRLC call for an end to offshore detention and the closure of Manus Island detention centre.

Amnesty International repeats its calls to the Australian and PNG Governments to implement in full the recommendations of the report ‘This is Breaking People’ and ‘This is still breaking people’.