Australia has been housing people seeking refugee status on the PNG island of Manus for several years. The people arrived by boat at or near Christmas Island, an Australian territory 3,400km from the mainland and, to remove the incentive for future boat arrivals by bringing them to the mainland, Australia made a deal with PNG to house them on Manus.
PNG has since reneged on the deal and the detention centre has been forced to close. Alternate accomodation is on offer, either on the island of Nauru, where Australia has a 2nd detention centre, or within the township on Manus.
If they choose to relocate to Nauru, their asylum application to Australia can continue.
That headline is two weeks old now and the centre is being dismantled. Running water and electricity have therefore been disconnected.
Understandably, those whose have chosen to remain in situ are starting to run out of the basics.
A refugee advocate, Kon Karapanagiotidis, is highlighting their privations and seeking donations and assistance from the public.
He is also very critical of the Australian government’s actions and inactions.
His Twitter account is busy with similar messages, which you can read for yourself.
Kon has a suggested solution for these problems, which he hashtags regularly – #bringthemhere. This campaign has consistently failed to make any ground with Australian governments of both political flavours. Perhaps it might help to examine why?
There’s a useful timeline here. As you’d expect from the BBC, what’s left unsaid is most important. The reason Manus was opened and then re-opened was in response to a large volume of arrivals, resulting in an unknown number, possibly in the thousands, drowning en route.
Put simply, rewarding a dangerous ocean crossing with permanent residence in Australia acts as a “pull” factor which people were prepared to put their lives at extreme risk to achieve. Politicians twice acted to remove this “pull”.
Those people who subsequently crossed multiple international borders and then boarded unsafe boats from Indonesia bound for Australia were relocated to Manus.
The #bringthemhere option has been tried twice and was deemed unpalatable from a human safety point of view.
So what options does Australia have left open?
Even the most desperate can make choices.
The people currently on Manus Island have made a series of choices;
- They chose not to claim asylum in the first country they arrived in after leaving their country of origin.
- They chose not to claim asylum in the subsequent countries they arrived in after leaving their country of origin.
- They chose to pay people traffickers for a place on a dangerous ocean crossing to Christmas Island.
- They chose to decline the option to be resettled in PNG.
- They chose not to move to the Nauru centre once Manus was closed.
- They chose not to move to the alternate accomodation on Manus.
- They chose to remain in situ at the closed centre on Manus.
In the absence of agreeing to #bringthemhere, with its twice-proven consequences, one struggles to understand what other solutions the people of Australia could offer.
Rather than hectoring and making accusations of racism, perhaps Kon could concentrate on seeking compromise solutions. If not, then one can only conclude that the welfare of the refugees is secondary to his desire to see an open borders policy despite a consistent rejection of this by the Australian electorate.
EDIT: Corrected Manus is part of PNG, not Indonesia.