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isolated on the island of Manus in the Pacific, hundreds of refugees call for help

Manus has everything from a small tropical paradise. This small piece of land, with an area of ​​approximately 2,000 km2, is lost in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Papua New Guinea. But far from the postcard landscape, the island also hosts one of the most contested refugee camps in the region. Created in 2001 by Australia to detain its asylum seekers and process their cases, the camp was officially closed on October 31, deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Papua.

Manus Island located off Papua New Guinea.  (FRANCEINFO)

Since then, nearly 700 refugees from Iraq, Sri Lanka, Iran or Afghanistan, are still barricaded there, without water, electricity or food. They refuse to leave their center for fear of being attacked by residents, but also of being moved to other “transition” centers. “I don’t want to leave one center for another, I want my freedom. I want to know my future”explains one of them, Fahad al Badry, to franceinfo.

Originally from Iraq, the 26-year-old arrived four and a half years ago on the island of Manus and has never been able to leave it. After flying to Indonesia, he was arrested by the Australian military as he attempted to reach Australia by boat. “Since 2013, all migrants who arrive by sea are forcibly transferred here, he says. I don’t know why I’m being held, I haven’t committed any crime.”

In the four camps on the island – Oscar, Delta, Mike and Foxtrot – the refugees are now on their own. “We dug holes in the ground and put bins to collect rainwater, which we use for drinking and washing.describes Fahad al Badry. There, it’s 11 p.m., I’m in a small room where it’s completely dark and very hot.” On social networks, refugees publish images of men sleeping on the ground, under wobbly structures made of sheet metal.

Refugees from Manus Island (Papua New Guinea) collect rainwater from bins, November 10, 2017. (HANDOUT / GETUP)

The refugees still live on their reserves, “but it’s far from enough”, deplores Fahad al Badry. The associations do not have access to the camp, the social services have deserted, the necessary medicines are lacking. “About 20% of inmates are on antidepressants for depression or post-traumatic stress”said Australian Green Senator Nick McKim, after a visit to the center in late October. Many of them can no longer sleep, says Behrouz Boochani, an Iranian, on Twitter.

Right now, hundreds of naked men are lying around me. They are hungry and they are weakening. I have no words to describe this disaster created by Australia, it will go down in history.

Behrouz Boochani, Iranian

on Twitter

According to local media, some migrants have never left the center since their arrival and are having nervous breakdowns at the thought of leaving. This year, two refugees committed suicide. The UN described a situation “humanitarian emergency”. “If the authorities do not act immediately, there is a real risk that the situation will deteriorate catastrophically,” adds the head of Amnesty for the Pacific.

Refugees sleep in the dormitory of the detention center on Manus Island (Papua New Guinea), November 10, 2017. (HANDOUT / GETUP)

Those who dare to venture outside must face the wrath of the islanders. In Lorengau, the capital of the province, attacks have multiplied in recent months, reports the Guardian. The city “mono-cultural, very close-knit and conservative”, takes a dim view of the presence of these men. Most of them say they are too afraid to go out after dark for fear of being attacked and robbed.

Many of my friends have been beaten, they have suffered robberies or assaults (…) If you go to the police station, they do not open an appropriate investigation.

Imran, Rohynga refugee

to the NGO Human Rights Watch

“Someone attacked me, they took everything: my money, my phone, they had a big knife and kicked my arm”resumes Joinul in a video (in English) of the NGO Human Rights Watch. We receive threats from locals saying ‘if you come to town we will kill you one by one, there will be a lot of bloodshed’, Abdul Aziz Adam tells the BBC (in English). We are living in hell.”

Screen capture from Human Rights Watch's YouTube video of the Manus Island refugee camp in Papua New Guinea, November 16, 2017. (HUMAN RIGHT WATCH)

The attackers are said to be small groups of young locals, often drunk and armed with knives, who attack foreigners to steal cell phones and savings, “without being worried by the police”describe The world. The refugees fear the local police, described as inhumane, especially since February 2014. Following a protest movement, the police then participated with residents in a violent storming of the camp. One Iranian refugee died and 51 people were injured. Reza Barati was hit with a stick covered in nails and, as he was lying on the ground, struck a stone on the head, describes the Guardian.

After the camp closed on October 31, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern offered to host 150 refugees. An offer rejected by his Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull. No question of deviating from the extremely harsh anti-immigration policy pursued by Canberra since 2013. Australia, which has paid millions to Papua New Guinea to manage the camp and the refugees, does not accept any on its soil , not even those who meet the criteria for the right to asylum. It offers refugees to settle permanently in Papua New Guinea, to be transferred to another detention center, to be relocated to a third country such as Cambodia or the United States or to return to their country.

“It is appalling, cruel and shameful that the authorities in Australia and Papua New Guinea have created this crisis and placed the refugees, who hoped to find protection in Australia, in such a desperate situation.”deplores Amnesty International. Faced with this impasse, refugees have no choice but to wait: “The current state of mind is distress and depression”describes Abdul Aziz Adam, a Sudanese refugee. “We help each other, we try to help each other. Just to stay alive.”

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