August 01, 2013
About 40 people – all single men – have arrived on Manus Island as part of the Rudd Government’s Papua New Guinea plan to process and resettle asylum seekers in that country.
The men, who are from Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, left Christmas Island on Wednesday night after bad weather delayed the transfer for hours.
Dr Otto Numan, chief executive of Manus Island’s only hospital, said that he checked the asylum seekers’ names against the manifest.
”We are expecting more tomorrow,” he said on Thursday. ”The youngest is 18.”
The group will have their claims for refugee protection processed in Papua New Guinea, after Australia outsourced its refugee processing obligations for asylum seekers arriving by boat. If they are found to be refugees, they could be resettled in PNG, under the plan announced by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd last Friday.
New marquees have been raised to accommodate the asylum seekers in the expanded centre, and a field kitchen, laundry and ablution blocks have been installed in the past week.
Immigration Minister Tony Burke said on Thursday that the group had arrived about 7.45 on Wednesday morning.
He said they were accompanied by Immigration officials, AFP officers and medical staff.
”People smugglers no longer have a product to sell. There is no point getting on a boat any more,” he said.
Mr Burke said capacity at Manus Island was being increased to 3000 at two of the centres and more places would be provided as required.
”In the coming days there will be more and more who are flown across and over time, every single person who arrives under these new rules will find that the government is true to its word. And they will not be settled in Australia.”
Speaking in Sydney on Thursday, Coalition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison accused the government of ”making policy on the run”.
”They make big announcements; they make them for a political purpose and they’re there for a number of weeks to get them over another hump and on the other side it all unravels,” he said.
”At present, there is no legally binding agreement for resettlement in PNG. Putting people on a plane to Manus Island doesn’t prove anything; it doesn’t prove anything at all.”
And he attacked the increased foreign aid money Australia will provide to PNG as a sweetener for PNG taking up to 3000 asylum seekers by Christmas.
”Almost $500 million of Australian taxpayers’ money has been handed out for works that are completely unrelated to supporting the offshore processing centre in Papua New Guinea, in the form of hospitals, roads, and universities,” he said.
Last week, 103 asylum seekers were moved from Manus Island back to Christmas Island to make way for those affected by the latest policy. A spokeswoman for the Department of Immigration said 26 asylum seekers remained on the island, pending further investigation by Manus Island police.
On Monday, a boat carrying 102 asylum seekers and two crew was picked up near Christmas Island. The people were taken to Christmas Island and will be subject to the new regime after health checks.
On Tuesday, Fairfax Media reported that International Health and Medical Services, which runs medical services throughout the detention network, recommended in November that children younger than five should not take anti-malaria medicine, and said they and pregnant women should not travel to the island, which has endemic rates of malaria.
It said that pregnant women risked losing their babies, or their own lives, by taking anti-malaria medication.
Despite this, women of child-bearing age were sent to Manus Island and, having taken anti-malaria medication before discovering they were pregnant, three women miscarried.
The Department of Immigration has confirmed that infants and pregnant women would be sent to Manus Island, but it said at-risk groups would be sent only after appropriate arrangements were in place. It has not said what these would be.
On Wednesday, Mr Burke said initially only single men would be sent to Manus Island because the facilities were not ready for family groups, including separate areas for single men and family groups.
But he said young children and pregnant women would eventually be sent to PNG.
”If, for example, I carved out children of a particular age, it would take about a fortnight . . . before we saw boatloads of children of that age being pushed across the Indian Ocean,” Mr Burke said. ”That is not a compassionate way to behave. My policy principle is that everyone will end up being sent offshore but they will be sent at a time that I am confident they are safe.”
It is expected the first group will move into their new accommodation on Manus Island on Thursday evening.
The fourth of four plane loads of freight, including kitchen equipment and tents, arrived in Port Moresby on Monday to be sent to Manus Island in preparation for the new arrivals.