December 12, 2013
Manus Island’s detention centre has been described as cruel, inhuman, degrading and violating prohibitions against torture in a detailed report by Amnesty International.
The centre has been notoriously difficult for journalists to access since it reopened last year, but three Amnesty researchers and translators were allowed into Manus Island for a week last month.
The report, obtained exclusively by the ABC’s 7.30 program, paints a very dark picture of life in the centre for the roughly 1,100 men currently detained at three compounds on the island.
The most extraordinary claim in Amnesty’s report is that drinking water in the largest compound, called Oscar, is limited to less than half a litre a day.
“In the largest compound… water is supplied through 19-litre bottles,” the report said.
“A dozen bottles a day for nearly 500 men, according to the staff who supply them, or less than a single 500ml bottle per person, an amount that is clearly insufficient, especially given the heat and humidity.”
Amnesty researcher Graeme McGregor visited Manus Island and says health staff at the centre are worried.
“That’s an extremely concerning problem and it’s something that was raised by the health staff as well,” he said.
“The men spend several hours a day – some reported four to five hours a day – queuing for meals and for the toilets and things like that.
“They have absolutely no shelter or shade outside and of course you’re talking about a tropical island, so the temperature can reach up to 35 degrees. It’s extremely humid.”
Manus Island medical staff worried about state of facilities
The report also claims toilet facilities lack even the most basic services like soap.
“Most of the latrines had no soap when we inspected them… there are too few showers and toilets to accommodate the number of men in the facility resulting in… unhygienic conditions,” the report said.
A guy from Iraq told us that he would rather have died at sea.Amnesty International’s Claire Mallinson
Mr McGregor says it is causing preventable outbreaks of illness.
“We were informed by several staff that gastroentiritis is common, that there’s been several outbreaks of gastro inside the compounds,” he said.
“And we would certainly argue that that is much more likely because the men don’t have soap in the toilets a lot of the time.”
The report claims medical staff on Manus Island have asked for the facilities to be improved.
“Requests by medical staff for basic measures that would improve health and sanitation have received no response,” the report said.
“For example, staff have asked that detainees have greater opportunities for mental stimulation… a sufficient supply of drinking water for those in Oscar compound, shoes for all detainees and soap in the latrines.”
Amnesty International’s Claire Mallinson says the report and concerns of medical staff on the island will be aired globally.
“When we talked to the medical staff there, they estimated that over 30 per cent of the detainees there now have mental health problems,” she said.
“We talked to people who expressed a desire to self harm and also suicide.
“A guy from Iraq told us that he would rather have died at sea.”
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison ‘surprised’ by findings
On Wednesday in Canberra, Ms Mallinson and Mr McGregor held a meeting with Immigration Minister Scott Morrison to brief him on the report.
Ms Mallinson says the Minister was surprised by some of the report’s findings.
“His response was that he would read the report, review the recommendations and with some of the issues that we raised he looked surprised,” she said.
To walk away from offshore processing as the previous Labor government chose to do, at the urging of those who are now making the same recommendations once again, would be reckless and irresponsible.Immigration Minister Scott Morrison
“I am very optimistic that he will look to address those fairly shortly.”
Mr Morrison said in a statement that suggestions would be given proper consideration “where practical”.
“Where improvements can be made and can be justified, they will be made, but the policy of offshore processing is here to stay,” he said.
“To walk away from offshore processing as the previous Labor government chose to do, at the urging of those who are now making the same recommendations once again, would be reckless and irresponsible.”
Later, Mr Morrison told Sky News the Government was already acting to address a number of issues raised in the report.
“There are some things in this report that we will seek to verify with Amnesty and get the details of what they’re talking about,” he said.
“I’ve reviewed the report and some of those comments are a little general, I’ve got to say.
“At the same time we’re going through a massive expansion program and one of the reasons we’re doing that is to address quite a number of issues they highlighted in the report. ”
Conditions ‘deliberately bad’ to break asylum seekers, Greens say
The Greens have accused the Government of using the poor conditions to push asylum seekers to breaking point.
Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young says the conditions described in the report amount to intentional cruelty.
“It seems as though the conditions are so bad that perhaps maybe they’re meant to be deliberately bad, in order to push people to breaking point,” she said.
“Pushing them to a point of self-destruction, self-harm, attempted suicide, and even comments such as people saying they would have preferred to have died at sea rather than to have been sent to Manus Island and be treated the way they are.
“If that is the case that’s a very, very serious and sad indictment of Government policy.”
Papua New Guinea dismisses claims as ‘out of date’
At his weekly press briefing on November 8, Mr Morrison had said work was continuing on upgrading the Manus Island facility to cope with an increase in detainees.
“We have current physical capacity to deal with everybody who is there,” he said.
“We have the capacity to take every single person who is currently on Manus Island, and we are putting in place, and that should be occurring pretty much as we speak, an additional more than 400 beds.”
Papua New Guinea’s foreign minister Rimbink Pato dismissed the key claims in the report at a press conference in Canberra on Wednesday.
“The reports that have come is not a true reflection of what is happening on Manus,” he said.
“I think the report was out of date, at the present time I think we have a pretty good facility there.”