January 30, 2023
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Manus refugees remain in limbo

On Oct. 31, Australia’s offshore immigration detention center on Manus Island shut down.

The 600 men in the camp have been trying to migrate to Australia for years. The people living in the detention center were brought there by force, some even in handcuffs. The Australian government plans on removing them in the same way. Some have been living in limbo for several years, not knowing if they’ll ever make it to Australia.

Closing the camp means that the refugees will be transferred to another detention center where they will be subjected to the same cramped, diseased and hopeless conditions.

Leading up to the permanent closure of the camp, the Australian government has been closing off different sections of the camp for the past few months. Housing barracks were shut off, making the 600 refugees of the detention center cram up together in reduced living spaces.

Next, the food hall closed. Limited food packages were handed out to the refugees, but barely enough for the days that they had left in the camp. Water and electricity were the next things to be shut off.

Locals of Papau New Guinea protested around the detention center, not about the inhumane treatment of the refugees, but that they were going to be moved to a detention center closer to the city of Lorengau. The center can only hold 400 people, and 600 need to be relocated.

The locals have always been hostile toward the refugees, tired of housing them on territory with little resources to take care of its people. Australia has both neglected the people of PNG and treated the refugees like cattle, herding them from camp to camp, creating a volatile situation to an already delicate topic: migration and resettlement.

Some refugees have been offered resettlement in PNG, but many of them fear an aggressive welcome from the local population if they decide to stay voluntarily; they have already had unpleasant reactions when staying in Manus by force.

These refugees have been imprisoned on Manus for searching for a new beginning, with no right to representation and no say on where they get to go or when. Australia’s mishandling of the situation is slowly erupting. Instead of dealing with the issue head-on, it dumped refugees on an already-neglected territory.

The Australian government is procrastinating the resettlement of their refugees. There is no comfort in being moved to another detention center because there is no guarantee the refugees will be able to stay there, or that they will be granted asylum in Australia.

Isabella Grullón Paz can be reached at igrullon@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @isagp23