January 30, 2013
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young says conditions at the Manus Island detention centre are ”the worst” she has seen. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Asylum seekers on Manus Island are ”acutely aware” they are being used as examples in the Gillard government’s deterrence policy, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said on Wednesday.
Senator Hanson-Young condemned the conditions for asylum seekers on Manus Island as the ”worst” that she has seen.
Senator Hanson-Young is visiting the PNG island and told ABC radio that the living conditions for asylum seekers, including 34 children, were ”primitive” and ”oppressive”.
”It’s not just that they’re primitive, of course, they’re also quite oppressive and I can’t see why the government decided to move families – we’ve got to remember there’s children involved in this, there’s 34 children here – up to this detention centre. It is not ready, by any stretch of the imagination.
”These are the worst living conditions in a detention centre that I have seen,” she said.
Her comments come a day after it was reported that at least two Sri Lankan asylum seekers had drowned and a third was missing after their boat smashed into rocks and broke apart off the coast of Java as they made their way to Australia.
Twenty-two Sri Lankans on the boat were rescued by Indonesian authorities and taken back to Indonesia.
On Tuesday, HMAS Pirie, operating under the control of Border Protection Command, intercepted a suspected asylum seeker north-east of Ashmore Islands with 58 people on board.
But boat arrivals have slowed since November because of the monsoon season and it remains to be seen whether the offshore detention measures will work once sailing conditions improve.
Under strict new rules introduced last year, anyone who arrived by boat after August 13 is eligible for removal to offshore processing centres in Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, or Nauru.
There are now 235 asylum seekers Manus Island, and 415 on Nauru. Meanwhile, with the onshore detention centre under pressure, many others have been released into the community on bridging visas.
Those on Manus Island, Senator Hanson-Young said, were asking ”why are they the ones who are chosen to come to Manus Island, when thousands of others who arrived after August 13 have been left in Australia, some even put on bridging visas”.
”These people here are acutely aware that they are being used as an example . . . this seems like persecution all over again.”
Senator Hanson-Young said the asylum seekers on Manus Island were housed in tents or ”rundown” dongas, some of which had only had doors put on them in recent days.
”The heat is really getting to people,” Senator Hanson-Young said. ”They have got no air-conditioning, they’ve got very, very little privacy.”
She praised the work of NGOs Save the Children and the Salvation Army, saying the agencies were doing their ”utmost” to help the detainees.
But she said she had real concerns about the prevalence of malaria, with reports a 10-year-old girl had contracted the disease despite malaria tablets being given to asylum seekers every day.
The department of immigration says there have been no cases of malaria at the Manus Island processing centre.
When asked whether these conditions were no worse than those for PNG residents, Senator Hanson-Young said: ”The problem is that these people (asylum seekers) are prisoners. They have no freedom of movement. Every moment of their day is dictated by guards.”
A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the government was committed to implementing the recommendations of the Expert Panel, led by Angus Houston, to stop people losing their lives at sea.
”It’s no secret that Senator Hanson-Young is opposed to offshore processing,” the spokeswoman said.
”Conditions on Manus Island are appropriate. Detainees, including children, have access to health, education and recreational services.
”Temporary accommodation is in place while alternative arrangements are considered for a more permanent processing facility.”
Meanwhile, opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison, deputy opposition leader Julie Bishop and customs spokesman Michael Keenan are visiting Sri Lanka to investigate measures to combat people smuggling operations.