No Christmas joy on Manus Island
For the 130 Afghan, Iranian, Iraqi and Sri Lankan refugees on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, this Christmas season is an uphill battle to keep spirits up in a grim environment writes Socialist Alternative. On Christmas Day most Australian children wake up to a morning of opening presents; the 15 children on Manus Island wake up to a vastly different reality: their daily malaria pill.
In the humid isolation of Manus Island time stands still for those waiting to be granted asylum in Australia. Since the Refugee Processing Centre was reopened in November, none of the detainees have been given access to legal aid or assigned a case manager.
One detainee has reported that the mental state of many asylum seekers on Manus Island is rapidly declining. Yet there are no counselling services available. The Salvation Army’s failure to provide psychiatric help is incomprehensible given the widespread knowledge that life in detention can cause psychosis, depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts.
For Aria Yousefian, a 28-year-old musician from Iran, the uncertainty of life in detention is the worst part of the experience. His wish list for 2013 includes “freedom, safety, and rights for women and children. I am not worry about music or other things anymore,” he says. “I am worry about my future… We do not know how long we will stay here. No one here will tell us what will happen to our future. People say they should let us die here by gun, it is easier.”
The nightmarish conditions faced by refugees on Manus Island and Nauru are a time warp back to the Howard government’s Pacific Solution of the 2000s. This time around it is the ALP that is implementing these inhumane policies whilst at the same time restricting access to journalists wishing to investigate the conditions inside the detention centre.
While the media are restricted from visiting Manus Island, some other organisations have been allowed to visit the centre, and their attitude has left Aria and others feeling abandoned:
“I saw workers from Save the Children were laughing at us, women and children were crying because of the situation, but it was a TV show for them. I don’t know what to say exactly. All I know is people can’t tolerate this anymore.”
As 2013 approaches and millions of people in Australia write their New Year’s resolution lists, a heavy cloud of uncertainty hangs over Manus Island. Refugees are being given no information about their fate, or told if their claims have even been initiated yet.
In this remote tropical island without air conditioning, adequate medical treatment, or privacy, the best gift the Australian government could give asylum seekers this festive season is the most basic and simple of all: freedom.
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