Government must act urgently to prevent humanitarian crisis on Manus

31st Oct 2017

Closing Manus Island detention centre without ensuring that residents have a safe place to go presents an urgent risk of a humanitarian crisis, directly conflicting with Australia’s obligations under work health and safety legislation and international law, the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) said today.

Residents of the Manus Island facility have been informed by letter that all Australian staff will be withdrawn, electricity, food, water, medical, hygiene and sewage services cut off, and all outdoor fencing removed today.

ALA National President Laura Neil said that under the Work Health and Safety Act, the Commonwealth has a duty not to put the health and safety of residents of the centre at risk, a duty that would clearly be breached by withdrawing essential services and security staff.

A previous court decision determined that this duty extends to offshore detention countries such as Papua New Guinea (PNG).

“This situation is inhumane and cruel, and the impending crisis entirely avoidable,” Mrs Neil said. “Forcing the shutdown of this detention centre without first making adequate provisions for the safety of the detainees is putting them at immediate and unacceptable risk.”

“It is clear that in taking these steps, the Australian government is likely to be breaching international law, given the history of violence on Manus,” Mrs Neil said.

“Our government is on notice that the risk to safety is real. Some unconfirmed reports have emerged that the facility has being looted by armed locals. Residents have disclosed threats that they will be attacked if they leave. Local police have reportedly said they cannot guarantee the safety of the men.

“Essential services, such as water, food, medication, sewage and electricity are reportedly being cut off today,” Mrs Neil said. “A number of these men are taking essential medication that will no longer be available. Private security services are also being withdrawn, leaving only local officials, the police and the Navy in place.”

“These same officials have allegedly threatened and even attacked the asylum seekers and refugees in the past,” Mrs Neil said. “Asylum seekers and refugees hold well-founded fears for their safety if they leave the centre.”

“The situation has been described as an impending humanitarian disaster,” Mrs Neil said.

Mrs Neil said that just last week the United Nations (UN) expert on executions, in a report to the UN General Assembly, highlighted the global emergency facing migrants and refugees.

“If the government is unwilling to bring these people to Australia, as it should, then it should do everything possible to support the resolution of the crisis with other third country settlement options. Today. No reasonable offer of resettlement should be refused.”

“This urgent situation needs to be resolved immediately, in line with work health safety and international law, not to mention basic human decency,” Mrs Neil said.

“Let’s not forget, as people seeking asylum, these men have only asked Australia for help when they were being persecuted at home. They have committed no crime.”

“These people have suffered too much already,” Mrs Neil said. “They have been subjected to attack by locals, and have watched the murder and deaths of fellow detainees. They need to be brought to safety immediately.”

Tags: Asylum seekers and refugees