January 14, 2015 | the guardian
Detainees and staff face weeks without access to running water and local security guards are on strike after going unpaid.
Manus Island detention centre is on the verge of another riot, with more than 500 men now joining a mass hunger strike and at least two men having stitched their lips together.
Water pumps at the centre have broken, meaning there is no access to running water for showers.
The 1,000 men in detention and staff have been given bottles of water to shower with, and staff have been told they cannot shower, flush toilets, or wash their clothes. It could be weeks until water is restored.
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A sign at the detention centre about the lack of water available. Photograph: Supplied
Already, the shower block in Mike compound is littered with discarded bottles. There has been a shortage of soap for weeks.
The hunger strike which began in Mike compound yesterday has now spread to other compounds. Oscar compound detainees have voted to hunger strike, and men in Foxtrot compound say they will also join.
Men from Mike are refusing to return from their dorms, camping out in a central area in the compound, and refusing orders to disperse.
The immigration department in Canberra told AAP no detainees are “involved in food and fluid refusal”. But department staff on the island have told Guardian Australia this is not true, and that the hunger strike is now widespread.
Pictures obtained by Guardian Australia from the centre also demonstrate this.
Photographs show at least two men have stitched their lips together and are refusing all food and water.
The first man to sew his lips, a 40-year-old Egyptian Christian, told fellow detainees before he started his protest: “If I don’t go from this place in four days I will kill myself. I don’t care about my life.”
He has been on Manus since 12 December 2013, but he has been in Australia’s immigration detention system almost 450 days.
A fellow detainee in Mike compound said: “Today, at 8.30am on Manus Island in my compound, medical staff came to check one of the boys who sew his lips from yesterday. They come to check his health. This man rejects them to check him. He says ‘I’m want to die. I just have one option, I just want to see my daughter and my sister. They are live in Australia for the last eight years. I miss them, I have to see them’.”
The man’s sister, an Australian citizen, spoke to Guardian Australia from Sydney saying she was “so worried he will die, he will be killed by [the] Australian government”.
The second man with stitched lips is a 27-year-old Iranian asylum seeker who has been on Manus for 17 months, since 8 August 2013.
Detainees are protesting because they fear being forced out of detention into the community, where they believe they will be attacked by the local population which resents the men being forcibly resettled in their community.
One local security guard in Oscar compound told detainees the local people would not allow any of them to live in their community.
Staff have reported local men standing at the fence of the detention centre making throat-slashing gestures.
The detainees are asking that their claims for refugee status are properly and quickly assessed. Some have been in detention for more than 18 months.
The detainees have asked that instead of being resettled in Papua New Guinea – where they believe they will be attacked, and possibly killed – that they are handed over to the care of the United Nations high commissioner for refugees.
A protest sign put up at the detention centre reads: “We asylum seekers fear to be resettled in PNG. Please hand us over to the UN. Two years in detention. Enough is enough”.
One detainee told Guardian Australia through an intermediary: “We we have to suffer like this. What we did?”
Distraught and in tears, he appears to address the Australian people: “Let your government to kill us. Let your government to kill us. We are human beings. We are not bad people … Please help us. Please help us. We begging you to help us.”
Adding to the distress of detainees, local security guards have told Guardian Australia that they have not been paid for several weeks and several have gone on strike, often leaving detainees without any guards.
One PNG guard said his pay, and that of his colleagues, was stopped without explanation three weeks ago, and that dozens of security guards have refused to report for shifts in protest.
Staff on the compound have been told the water supply is broken.
A sign posted by the private firm with the contract to run the detention centre, Transfield Services, says some of the water equipment has “broken down”.
“For transferees, this means you cannot have showers. For staff, this means no showers and no washing of clothes. These restrictions are effectively immediately.”
It is unknown when water will be restored to the detention centre, but Guardian Australia has been told it could be three weeks.
Immigration department staff say the situation on Manus is “chaotic” and “deteriorating”.
In February last year, three days of rioting resulted in more than 70 men being seriously injured, and one, 23-year-old Reza Barati, being killed.
He was allegedly attacked by local men who worked in the detention centre, and reportedly died after he was beaten with a wooden pole and had a rock dropped on his head.
A parliamentary inquiry last month found the violence which resulted in Barati’s death was “eminently foreseeable” and that the Australian government was responsible for protecting the detainees under its control.
The office of the immigration minister, Peter Dutton, has not returned calls. The department of immigration and border protection has been contacted for comment.