The Global Perspective

Shaye Lynn DiPasquale November 16, 2017 0

This weekly column will cover a variety of contemporary global issues including climate action, global health, international peace and security and gender equality. I hope that this column will act as a platform to advocate for global progress and to empower young leaders to get involved in international affairs.

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Hundreds of migrants and refugees are protesting the closure of a detention center on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

The Manus Regional Processing Center was originally established in 2001 as one of two Offshore Processing Centers (OPCs) under Australia’s “Pacific Solution.” The government introduced the “Pacific Solution” following an incident in which Australia refused to grant permission for a Norwegian freighter ship carrying over 400 rescued refugees to enter Australian waters. Norway and Australia fell into a diplomatic dispute after Norway claimed that the Australian government failed to uphold its commitment to helping distress mariners under the United Nation’s international law.

Australia immediately acted to confirm its right to determine who would enter and reside within the nation. With the passage of the “Pacific Solution,” any asylum seekers who arrived at one of Australia’s external territories would be transferred to one of the two OPCs until their claims for asylum were processed.

Over the next few years of operation, the need for the Manus Regional Processing Center to regulate detainees dwindled. In 2008, the center was formally shut down.

It wasn’t until 2012 that Australia was again faced with a serious issue regarding asylum. A significant increase in the number of maritime asylum seekers quickly became a political liability for the Australian government. After much debate and controversy, Manus Island was reopened for offshore processing.

The United Nations has repeatedly condemned Manus Island for breaking international human rights laws. Many of the refugees on Manus Island fled war-afflicted regions in their home countries only to be left isolated on island for years on end.

Following a 2016 ruling against the legality of Manus Island, Australia closed the center down for the second time Oct. 31, leaving hundreds of refugees with nowhere to go.

The United Nations has called on Australia to take responsibility for the developing humanitarian crisis. The government was urged to move the remaining refugees to safety in Australia and to do away with its strict policy of sending asylum seekers to offshore sites. But Australia stresses that it has no duty to ensure the welfare of the refugees that had been sent to the center, as they do not reside on Australian soil.

Instead of allowing the migrants to obtain residency in Australia, the government expects that they will return home or resettle elsewhere in Papua New Guinea.

The refugees are afraid for their safety if they move elsewhere on the island. Many local people resent the foreigners, as demonstrated by the numerous attacks that residents of the detention center have suffered over the years. Even the local authorities refuse to help the refugees. Instead, the authorities have elected to switch off water and electricity supplies at the center, leaving the refugees to live on stockpiles of food and rainwater.

The remaining migrants on Manus Island have barricaded themselves inside the detention center, and they refuse to be moved to another center or another location on the island. The migrants want Australia to finally provide the proper asylum they have been seeking for years.

Papua New Guinea’s prime minister has threatened to forcibly remove or arrest the protestors if they do not voluntarily evacuate the premises of the detention center.

Amnesty International researcher Kate Schuetze has openly denounced these threats.

“This is a man-made crisis,” Schuetze said in an Amnesty statement. “It is the Australian and P.N.G. governments who have left the men without food, clean water, proper sanitation or electricity. They cannot, having created the situation, now compound it by sending in security forces to force the refugees to move.”

Remaining on the island is not a long-term solution for the protestors. The international community is urging Australia to step up and offer a sustainable alternative.


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