Environment and immigration correspondent
253 Nauru detainees attempt self-harm, Senate hears
More asylum seekers have died on Manus Island than have been resettled, gay detainees are mistreated and refugees released from detention are not allowed to work or move freely, a human rights report says.
The gay men said they had frequent nightmares, were extremely depressed, and isolated themselves, often not leaving their rooms
It is two years since the former Labor government announced asylum seekers who arrived by boat without a visa would be denied refugee status in Australia but resettled in Papua New Guinea, via assessment at Manus Island.
Since then, not one has been resettled. This is despite Australian immigration officials confirming 129 detainees have been deemed genuine refugees.
Two asylum seekers sent to Manus have died – one killed during riots that swept through the detention centre and one from septicaemia after cutting his foot.
The Department of Immigration and Border Protection on Thursday confirmed 88 men found to be refugees remain in detention on Manus.
Another 41 have been transferred to a transit centre.
However, a report released on Thursday by Human Rights Watch and the Human Rights Law Centre said the men were prevented from leaving the island and denied opportunities to work and study.
Refugees are allowed to leave the transit centre, but many were not given identity documents enabling them to find work, the report said. One refugee was not allowed to travel to Port Moresby for work and others were reportedly denied volunteer opportunities.
The report found gay men were mistreated in detention by other detainees – “shunned or sexually abused or assaulted and used by the other men”.
“The gay men said they had frequent nightmares, were extremely depressed, and isolated themselves, often not leaving their rooms,” the report said.
It said the detention centre was overcrowded and detainees suffered depression and anxiety.
The groups visited the island in June and July and interviewed asylum seekers, refugees, United Nations agencies and PNG immigration officials, police, and hospital staff. They were allowed access to the transit centre but not the detention centre.
In the 2013-14 financial year the federal government spent $437.6 million to run detention facilities on Manus. There are 943 transferees on the island including the refugees.
“More asylum seekers sent to Manus have died than have been resettled,” Human Rights Law Centre director of legal advocacy Daniel Webb said.
“People found to be refugees deserve a real solution – not a transfer to a facility down the road where they remain in limbo.”
An Immigration Department spokeswoman said refugee determination, settlement and law and order issues “are matters for the PNG government”.
A PNG government spokesman said it was developing a national resettlement policy which “takes time and should not be rushed. This is in the interests of both the refugees and the communities into which they will resettle”.
Meanwhile, Shine Lawyers social justice counsel George Newhouse says the government’s controversial new border force laws would prevent detention centre staff from documenting riots such those on Manus Island last year, or from writing about their work in personal diaries.
He said doctors and nurses in state and territory hospitals who treated asylum seekers would also be covered by the secrecy provisions forced upon detention centre workers.
The Immigration Department said emergency room doctors and nurses “working in their normal roles” would not be captured by the laws. It said employees and contractors had never been allowed to “make personal records of protected or sensitive information for their own purposes”.