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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Manus horribilis

Manus horribilis: the horrible Manus solution and Australia's shameful treatment of the world's most vulnerable!

Tony Abbott's mantra 'Stop the Boats' has apparently paid off. Asylum Seekers haven't landed in Australia for more than two months. But at what cost? An asylum seeker has been brutally murdered on Manus Island, apparently at the hands of, or at least during the watch of, the security force G4S that was appointed by the Australian Government, Australia has damaged its reputation with Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, and the UNHCR has issued a warning that Australia is breaching its responsibilities under the Refugee Convention (1).

Great work Australia, but does anyone care?

Liberal Party apologists range from those who think its great that no asylum seeker has arrived, to those who proudly declare we should just kill the whole lot. And the Labor Party is silent. After all, the PNG Solution was their idea in response to the constant barrage of fear-mongering from the Liberal Party.

What an awesome country we have.

Yes, it is good that no asylum seeker has drowned in Australian waters, but this was not the purpose of Abbott's 'Stop the Boats' mantra. The purpose was to appeal to the xenophobia and racism inherent in the electorate. The xenophobia and racism that former One Nation leader, Pauline Hanson, brought to the surface and that former Prime Minister, John Howard, cultivated because of its election-winning popularity.

On the subject of John Howard, it's ironic that his supporters think of him as 'Honest John', considering that he lied about so many things, particularly when it came to the suffering and deaths of asylum seekers. Remember Siev-X, Children Overboard and Tampa? Each of those was marked by Howard's lies, denials and blame shifting.

Since Howard, it's in the DNA of the LNP to lie, deny and blame others.

Since Abbott came in he has dropped a cone of silence over most of the party's political activities, particularly asylum seekers. When in opposition, the LNP loudly and proudly broadcast every boat arrival, even driving around the streets with a massive bill-board advertising it. Throughout Labor's reign, Abbott even encouraged people smugglers by stating 'Let people come and put out the welcome mat to people-smugglers'. (2) So was it any wonder that people smugglers took him at his word. Now that LNP is in power, the silence is deafening. They have banned their own staff from announcing boat arrivals, claiming it threatens the military security of Australia. What a crock!

Asylum seekers detained on Manus Island had reported to the previous Labor government that they were being threatened and harassed by the security guards. As far back as September 2013, there were media reports of threats to detainees by Manus residents(3). There were also concerns about Australia funding the brutal PNG para-military force, the Mobile Squad, with fears of a major clash with locals(4).  Both the Labor Party (who were in power at that stage), and the Liberal Party ignored each of these issues.

In October 2013, there was a violent clash between the Mobile Squad and PNG's Army, which resulted in Australian staff on Manus Island being evacuated and asylum seekers left undefended to fend for themselves(5). Now, Morrison has stated that G4S claims the asylum seekers provoked them in the recent attack. The asylum seekers have been provoked and threatened for months by PNG security.

In November 2013, Amnesty International released a report(6) detailing the inhumane conditions and treatment of asylum seekers on Manus Island.  It stated that 'Manus Island is not about asylum claims. This is how you break people'(7). It is how YOU break people. People of Australia, YOU are breaking asylum seekers. People who have suffered persecution and war, who've been tortured and have come to Australia for assistance, are being broken by YOU! Both the Liberal Party and Labor Party have blood on their hands. Both have tried to out-do each other in their inhumanity towards their fellow man. The report stated that human rights violations included: refoulement, arbitary detention, discrimination, no legal protection, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. So, what did Prime Minister Abbott and Immigration Minister Scott Morrison do about this report? Nothing. They ignored it. Well, not totally ignored it. Morrison warned non-government organisations to be careful what they say(8). He wasn't concerned about the treatment of asylum seekers. He was concerned that it was being reported. Why? Because this government will silence dissent where it can.

This was demonstrated when the ABC reported allegations of abuse by the Royal Australian Navy against asylum seekers on board a boat. Apparently, the ABC was unAustralian for daring to suggest there may be substance to the claims. Isn't the idea of reporting to report events? Not all of these will be palatable, but the independence of journalists should not be threatened by the Government. The LNP's attacks on media and free speech are bordering on fascism.

The Amnesty International report contained information that was not new. The human rights breaches were also documented by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in a report released on 4 February 2013(9). Australia's response? Ban asylum seekers from ever settling in Australia. Oh, and then Abbott took it further by threatening to deport asylum seekers already in Australia for doing nothing more than what most Australians do now(10).

Australia's racist, fear-driven and vote-seeking policies have culminated in the murder of an innocent Iranian man in the Manus Island detention centre. Reza Berati(11) was killed during the riot. While the events are still under investigation, numerous reports are emerging that it was PNG security forces, and possibly locals, who attacked the asylum seekers. One man was killed, 77 were injured, 13 critically. All this on the watch of Scott Morrison.

In addition, the Department of Immigration and Border Security published the names and details of 10,000 asylum seekers on their website, potentially placing these people at risk from the very regimes they are fleeing. The illustrious Morrison then revealed the location of the file in interviews and press-releases, displaying gross incompetence(12).

Morrison should be sacked.

Australia maintains its Gulag Archipelago, of Manus Island, Nauru and Christmas Island, as well as a number of on-shore facilities. All breaching international law through mandatory detention and denying basic human rights to people seeking asylum.

If we've managed to stop the boats, then we need to make sure that we aren't just pushing people back into a life of persecution, torture, rape, murder. Australia should be working with the UN and with neighbouring nations, to have asylum seeker claims processed quickly and the claimants settled in Australia or another country of their choice.

Australia is the first country that Afghans, Sri Lankans, Rohingyans, will encounter when fleeing to the east, so it would behoove us to encourage nations that aren't signatories (such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand), to sign up to the Convention and to process and accept refugees. This may actually reduce the number of people fleeing to Australia.

Asylum seekers are being subject to human rights abuse at the hands of, and with the knowledge of, Australian authorities. We must take a more humane approach to those seeking safety. Australia is supposed to be the land of the fair go. Word around the camp fire is that 'for those who've come across the seas we've boundless plains to share'. Then let's share.

Raise the refugee quota and treat people the way we would like to be treated.

Stop the silence, stop the cover-ups, stop the dehumanisation and demonisation.

End the fear through love, empathy, acceptance and compassion.
RIP Reza Berati - murdered on Manus Island 16 February 2014.
Innocent victim of Australia's inhumane refugee policies.


1. 'United Nations warns Australia about asylum seeker boat push-backs', Sydney Morning Herald, 11 January 2014,

2. 'Abbott slams Labor's 'pull factors' for refugee crisis', Canberra Times, 9 December 2011,

3. 'Manus Island landowners threaten 'guerilla war' against detention centre', The Australian, 2 September 2013,

4. 'Australians funding PNG's feared cops', Rory Callinan, The Sydney Morning Herald, 4 August 2013,

5. 'Greens to launch inquiry into security squads clash at Manus Island detention centre', Sarah Whyte, Natalie O'Brien, The Age, 12 February 2014,

6. 'The Truth About Manus Island: 2013 report'. Amnesty International, 11 December 2013., accessed 22 February 2014.

7. Truth about Manus,

8. 'Amnesty International's Manus Island report sparks Scott Morrison warning', Mark Coultan, The Australian, 13 December 2013,

9. 'UNHCR Mission to Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, 15-17 January 2013', United Nations High Commission for Refugees, 4 February 2013,, accessed 22 February 2014.

10. 'Australia threatens to deport asylum seekers who spit, swear or spread rumours', Kashmira Gander, The Independent, 30 January 2014,

11. 'Manus violence: dead asylum seeker named as Iranian Reza Berati, 23', Oliver Laughland, The Guardian, 21 February 2014,

12. 'Tim Wilson says Morrison response to asylum seeker data breach ‘undesirable’ ', Oliver Laughland and Paul Farrell, The Guardian, 21 February 2014,