The nonviolent standoff at now-decommissioned Manus Island detention center met an extremely violent end when the Papa New Guinea police force stormed the controversial camp and forcefully dragged out the refugees who were refusing to leave the island, citing inhumane conditions at alternative facilities and fear of violent reprisals from the local community.
The remote Manus island center had been a key part of Australia’s contentious immigration policy, under which it refused to allow migrants arriving on boats to reach its shores, detaining them in PNG and Nauru instead.
However, after the notorious camp was shut down on Oct. 31 following allegations of widespread abuse, rape and torture, nearly 400 asylum seekers stayed back, unwilling to move “from one prison to another.”
Even after the officials cut off their electricity and water supplies, forcing them to survive on stockpiled food and rainwater, the men refused to leave and continued to live in squalor — until the law enforcement agencies forcefully cleared out the camp.
Cameras captured brutal scenes at the detention center as officers assaulted refugees with metal poles and batons before loading them into buses and sending them to alternative accommodation units that are either not ready or already overcrowded.
Look Australia , that's what you people doing with us by using PNG hands.— Walid Zazai (@ZazaiWalid) November 23, 2017
This isn't forcing? @PeterDutton_MP Look it's you who want to make violence, so u can blame us but we are peaceful, and will be peaceful until we get freedom in safe place.#ManusSOS#Saveus pic.twitter.com/yyGOIimjzR
Forcing by Force, Remember we will Never Accept PNG. pic.twitter.com/QCtAlNZQgJ— Ezatullah kakar (@EzatullahKakar) November 23, 2017
“They hit me on my hand,” Pakistani refugee Samad Abdul told the Sydney Morning Herald during the raid. “The police are so aggressive. They are telling us ‘you should go back to your country.’ They are swearing at us. Everyone is scared, everyone is just terrified. We don't have any option to stay here. All of us, we all are going.”
They brought the buses inside the camp and dragged some guys into them.— Walid Zazai (@ZazaiWalid) November 23, 2017
They taking us by force to town centres.
They closed the gates of "Mike compound" and started beating guys.
Thank you Australia once again #ManusSOS pic.twitter.com/ypH3wMK2NX
It is also important to note the refugees were reportedly unarmed and peaceful.
Police also arrested Iranian journalist Behrouz Boochani, who had been consistently sharing the situation at the Manus Island detention camp with the rest of the world. He was handcuffed for two hours before the officers finally released him without any charge.
I’ve just been released. They hancuffed me for more than two hours in a place behind the prison camp. The police commander yelled at me ‘you are reporting against us.’ They pushed me several times and broke my belongings. Will write more about it later.— Behrouz Boochani (@BehrouzBoochani) November 23, 2017
Manus prison camp today pic.twitter.com/8LicQnNYo6— Behrouz Boochani (@BehrouzBoochani) November 24, 2017
Australia and PNG obviously are violating human rights pic.twitter.com/p8qU0MWwMw— Behrouz Boochani (@BehrouzBoochani) November 23, 2017
Immigration & police broke many phones of ppl trying to take photos. The refugees are gathering in Oscar compound, police & immigration are around them. Some officers destroying Delta compound. The ppl are waiting for buses to take them, 4 buses are full and on way to new camps.— Behrouz Boochani (@BehrouzBoochani) November 23, 2017
This morning police attacked the prison camp and the refugees are saying that they beat them. The refugees are going to leave the prison camp. So many are in the buses and are on the way to the new camps. pic.twitter.com/j5t1fSYxdB— Behrouz Boochani (@BehrouzBoochani) November 23, 2017
Following the raid, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull confirmed the authorities had cleared out the regional camp.
“I am pleased to say in terms of Manus is that the reports we have is that busloads of people are leaving Manus and complying with the directions of the PNG authorities and moving to the alternative facilities available to them,” he said. “That’s as they should.”
These asylum seekers fled the bloodshed in their homelands and risked their lives reaching the Australian shores just so they could find a safe haven. Instead, they were thrown into a prison, treated cruelly and subjected to unfathomable abuse.
Tragically, their situation does not appear to be getting any better either. At least one of the alternative accommodation centers has no electricity while the others are reportedly void of running water.
Meanwhile, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees also issued a statement expressing its concern over reports of forceful evacuation.
“UNHCR reminds Australia of its obligation to take full responsibility and provide effective protection, safety and lasting solutions for all refugees and asylum seekers in cooperation with the Papua New Guinean authorities,” said UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Volker Türk. “We urge both governments to engage in constructive dialogue, to de-escalate the tensions and work on urgent lasting solutions to their plight.”
It is not clear if the Papa New Guinea police also arrested any refugees.
Thumbnail and Banner Credits: Refugee Action Coalition via Reuters