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New centre at Manus still a construction site — Costello

Group of 40 Rhodes scholars sends letter to Australian PM Turnbull, expressing ‘disapproval, horror and shame’ at treatment to detainees

Image Credit: REUTERS
Papua New Guinea-operated alternative accommodation and services, that have been provided to refugees and non-refugees in Manus Province following the closure of the Manus Island immigration detention centre in Papua New Guinea.
Gulf News

Sydney: Fifty-seven men formerly detained on Manus Island have spent the night on mattresses in a classroom because they could not be housed in the new but unfinished Lorengau centre, despite claims to the contrary by the immigration minister, Peter Dutton.

“The West House, which is meant to accommodate 300 is clearly unfinished and has no kitchen facilities and is still a construction site,” Reverend Tim Costello told the Guardian.

“The bathroom in the unfinished wing only has squat toilets and the shower block is currently under an inch of water,” he said, having been shown photos taken by men at the centre.

“It clearly requires more than just polishing the tiles as Peter Dutton has suggested,” he said.

Costello is in the Manus township for the Australian Council for International Development, which is funded by World Vision, where he is chief advocate.

He told the Guardian he had met refugees on Friday night and again on Saturday morning, and had seen photographs they had taken of the facilities. He was not permitted to enter.

More than 300 refugees and asylum seekers — who had been living without running water, electricity, or regular food supplies for three weeks in the old detention centre — were moved on Friday to alternative accommodation at Lorengau township.

Costello said he had been shown pictures of people with lumps, bruises and scratches where refugees were allegedly hit with iron bars, but as far as he was aware there were no cases of broken bones.

Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish journalist and detainee on Manus, said the biggest immediate issue was the trauma that many men had experienced as a result of the beatings.

“After four and a half years here, someone beat them. They are traumatised and humiliated,” he said by phone from Manus.

“The big issue is there are no psychological facilities on Manus. They need people to talk to,” he said.

Despite completion of the relocation by the PNG police, the atmosphere on the island remains tense.

Costello said local police and immigration authorities had told the men they were looking for alternative accommodation for the 57 but it was not clear what would happen. There was also resentment among the local population about Australia’s actions.

“Most people are friendly but there are elements who resent what’s going on, including one community leader who expressed to me the view that Australia had just walked away from its responsibilities.

“Even the police commissioner feels that way: that the Australian government has just left,” he said.

In an effort to sway the Australian prime minister on refugee policy, a group of Rhodes scholars has written to their fellow Oxford alumnus, Malcolm Turnbull, expressing “disapproval, horror and shame” at the treatment of detainees being held on Manus and Nauru.

The tight-knit global community counts Turnbull and former prime minister Tony Abbott among its members and is made up of former international students from around the world who have studied at Oxford on scholarships from the Rhodes Trust, set up by Sir Cecil Rhodes.

Forty scholars have signed the letter. While most are from Australia, there are several from South Africa, Pakistan, Canada, the US and New Zealand who have put their names to the open letter.

The letter does not reflect the views of the trust itself.

“It has been over two weeks since your government decided to cut off electricity and stop providing food and water to the 600 men detained on Manus. The situation is now a humanitarian crisis,” the group wrote.

“Australia must finally take responsibility for the welfare of those it has detained and left languishing offshore. The fate of those men is in your hands — as is Australia’s international reputation,” they say.

“We are extremely disappointed that you, as a Rhodes Scholar, have failed to act to prevent the crisis on Manus. Your lack of leadership and compassion in this instance is at odds with the values of the Rhodes community.”

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