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Article in Guardian on future of men on Manus Island 29 September 2016

Asylum seekers are being made to attend ‘status resolution interviews’ with an Australian immigration department staff member where they are enticed to abandon their protection claims with inducements of money and immediate passage home, staff say. Photograph: 

Thursday 29 September 2016 04.30 AEST
You have no future here,” the 833 men detained at the Manus Island detention centre were bluntly told in a formal government statement this week. But, for the overwhelming majority of those still in detention after three years, they have no future anywhere else either. They have nowhere else they can go.
Australia is coercing refugees on Manus Island to return to their home countries, even to places where it is known they face arrest, persecution and possible torture, staff on the island have told Guardian Australia.
The detention centre on Manus was found to be “illegal and unconstitutional” by the Papua New Guinea supreme court in April and, while it remains operational more than four months later, the Papua New Guinea and Australian governments are escalating efforts to close it.
Of the 551 men held there who have had their protection claims assessed, 541 – or 98% – have been recognised as refugees. That is, they have a “well-founded fear of persecution” in their homeland, they cannot be returned there, and they are legally owed protection.

'No future for you here': Australia and PNG push to clear out Manus detainees
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Only 10 have been found not to be refugees.
But those with valid refugee claims are still being pressed to return home: offered upwards of $10,000 to abandon their right to protection and warned if they choose to stay they face an uncertain future.
An island source familiar with offshore processing procedures spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing retribution under the Border Force Act: “it is just so morally wrong – when you are found to be a refugee you are owed protection”.
“Our government is knowingly and deliberately trying to coerce people back to
situations where they can be killed or persecuted or tortured. This is now
happening before some have been fully assessed under all the refugee
determination procedures. To me that’s so wrong, it’s morally wrong and
questionable under the law. It flagrantly disregards non-refoulement obligations under international human rights law.”
“The law is flexible in our government’s hands. Offshore processing allows for an
‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality whereby if ‘no one’s really seeing
what we’re doing then we are not accountable’.”
On Wednesday PNG’s Immigration and Citizenship Services Authority (Icsa) announced the camp would be restructured, with “positive” refugee determined men held separately from those with “negative” assessments.
All in the camp are being actively encouraged to abandon their protection claims even if they have demonstrated they face imprisonment, persecution and torture if they return home.
“Assistance is available for people who want to voluntarily depart PNG. Recently, the amount of integration assistance has increased,” the men were told this week in a statement from Icsa, which also warned police would be called in to force “the movement of those who refuse to cooperate”.

Asylum seekers are being made to attend “status resolution interviews” with an Australian immigration department staff member where they are enticed to abandon their protection claims with inducements of money and immediate passage home – even before their protection claims have been finalised, according to detainees and staff on the island.

“Before the [refugee status determination] process is finished, they are already forcing these into these meetings with the sole intention of pushing them home, a place where they are in serious danger,” said an island source.
Asylum seekers who refuse to attend are stripped of their “points”, the ersatz currency used to obtain food, cigarettes and phone credit inside the detention centre.
At those meetings asylum seekers are offered upwards of $10,000 – the department has rejected reports of figures up to $20,000 – to go home immediately.
“This is a new step designed to push men home,” the source on the island said. “After three years we are still squeezing them, pressuring them to go back, it’s simply coercion.
“The reality it is the Australian government continues to use highly vulnerable
people to solve problems the government itself has created. There are no resettlement options either in PNG or a third country. It has been found to be illegal under the PNG constitution to detain asylum seekers. Forcing people home might reduce the size of the problem but it will not make it go away.”
Charlotte Chompff, who formerly worked on Manus Island, told Guardian Australia the men held on the island faced constant coercion to return home “voluntarily”.

Resettling refugees in Papua New Guinea: a tragic theatre of the absurd

Rohingyans, Somalis and Sudanese were being pressed to go home, induced with money and told they should abandon their claim to protection, even though their homelands were active warzones, or it was accepted by the Australian government that because of their ethnicity or religion they faced systemic persecution, she said.
“It is clear refoulement to send someone back home, when they have been found to be a refugee; especially to places where there is an active war occurring. The fact that they are still on Manus after all this time is demonstration of just how impossible it is for them to go home.”
Rohingyans – an ethnic and religious minority not recognised as citizens by their home country, Myanmar – “literally cannot go back”.
“It is impossible. So they are trapped, waiting for nothing.”
Chompff said detention on Manus was designed to be cruel.
“Australia’s whole underlying strategy … is to make conditions in offshore detention so difficult that people will give up. It is a deliberate tactic to wear people down, to break them down, so they just give up and go home.”
Chompff said men who had been found to be refugees, where it was known they faced systemic and violent persecution in their homelands, were still being encouraged, and offered inducements, to return home.
A confidential source on Manus told Guardian Australia: “Some guys put their hand up [to be returned]. Their attitude is ‘I don’t care if I get locked up when I go back, at least I’ll know it is for 10 years, I’ll get sentenced for a specific period of time and then it will be over’. On Manus they don’t know how long the punishment will last.
“Men who have been found to be refugees, have waited and waited, and then given up and gone home. They have been worn down, unable to endure endless uncertainty. They’ve been here three years, more than three years, and then they are escorted back. Information on what happens to people when they are returned is sketchy. The truth is we don’t know. They’re just gone.”
About 300 men have not yet been finally assessed (numbers in the detention centre vary with people moved to Port Moresby for medical treatment, or to the East Lorengau refugee transit centre).

The process for demonstrating a valid refugee claim is exhaustive.
Asylum seekers must first submit to an entry interview (in the case of most of the men on Manus, this was conducted by Australian officials), where they are screened in or out. They then have an interview with a claims assistance provider scheme (Caps) representative, who prepares a formal application for refugee status.
Asylum seekers are then interviewed by officers from PNG’s Icsa, where their claim is extensively tested . The process can take months, especially if asylum seekers are asked to source identity documents, usually from the government of the country they fled.
Interviews regularly run for several hours, some for longer than a day. Conditions are hot and communication is hampered by noisy fans, power failures and lost or incomplete files.
Interpreters who speak the wrong language are sometimes booked, particularly for ethnic minorities, derailing interviews.
Asylum seekers are often asked repeatedly and in detail about the specifics of their persecution, including torture, sexual violence and the deaths of family members. They are regularly left deeply distressed and unable to continue their interview. If abandoned, an interview can take months to reschedule.
“The guys were really suffering,” Chompff said. “We would be told by our clients about the torture they had endured. We had to probe for some of the details in order get an accurate account. This sometimes meant that they had to relive the trauma of the torture.”
“Sometimes a client would become distressed while describing the things they had suffered and we would not be able to continue the interview. The interviews were scheduled for three hours, but sometimes they went on much longer. Some clients needed a whole day to get out their story and what they had experienced.”
In the weeks or months following an interview, a decision on an asylum seeker’s claim is then made, ostensibly by PNG, but advised by Australian officials.

'End this political game': Manus Island refugee makes plea to Australia

“It’s a rigorous process, it’s really tough,” Chompff said. “It’s a high threshold to prove you are a refugee.”
The small number found not to be refugees are able to apply for a merits review of their cases. A significant number of claims are overturned on review.
And there is a final “deportation risk assessment” before people are forcibly deported.
“But we [Australian immigration] are getting geared up to begin the deportations soon, the ones we can do,” an island source told Guardian Australia.
Some countries, such as Iran, will not accept forcible returns of their citizens. Rohingyas are not recognised as citizens of Myanmar and so cannot enter the country.
The refugee status determination process is run by PNG’s Icsa but is actively overseen by Australian Border Force officials, who are present and in uniform on the island.
“We [Australia] are absolutely in charge of the whole process, the whole process,”
a source said. “PNG is being instructed by the ABF, by necessity as it’s all relatively new and totally different to how it operated in the past. It is being run according to the Australian government’s agenda.”
A department source said: “We are Big Brother looking over the shoulder.”
Even as Australia attempts to reduce numbers in the camp, the harsh conditions in offshore detention mean an increasing number of men need protection, as asylum seekers’ identities are leaked online by government error, revealed by the media, or their grievances with their home governments are aired on social media.
Many of the men transported on Manus arrived with weak claims to refugee status but they have been strengthened by their treatment during incarceration.
The largest national cohort on Manus is from Iran, whose government closely monitors mainstream and social media.
“Since these guys have left their country they have been on social media, including Facebook, talking about the situation on Manus,” Chompff said. “Facebook is closely monitored by countries like Iran. Some of them have had their picture in the media. This can give rise to a sur place claim.
“Many of the guys on Manus now could have a sur place claim because of what’s happened to them since being sent to Manus. Some governments perceive seeking asylum in another country [to be] an anti-government or political action.”
In 2014 the Australian immigration department accidentally leaked the details of 9,258 asylum seekers, which it conceded put them in potential danger.
Chompff said many of the men who have been held on Manus – most for more than three years – had been “so damaged mentally” they could not be safely returned to their home countries.
“They might not have had a strong protection claim before but, because of the terrible conditions, the way they have been treated and lack of adequate health provisions in their home country, there may be a claim for protection. It is refoulement to return a very sick person to a place where there is no adequate healthcare and they will only deteriorate.
“Those men who might have not met the legal definition of a refugee initially, now could have a claim for protection. They have spent three years in a situation where the Australian government has effectively tortured them.”
In response to questions from Guardian Australia, a spokesman for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection said: “The department does not agree with any assertion that ‘the indefinite nature of detention is designed to “coerce” refugees and asylum seekers to go home’. It has consistently refuted such claims.
“The department continues to work in support of the government of PNG to deliver services at the centre.

Refugee left homeless in Papua New Guinea after being resettled from Australian-run detention

“Together our priority is to secure appropriate return or settlement outcomes for all people at the Manus RPC and to close the centre as quickly as practicable.”
“Non-refugees do not have a lawful right to remain in PNG and must return to a country where they have a right of residence.
“In cases where people make a decision to return home, assistance is available to help them depart PNG, return home and re-establish their lives.”
The department said resettlement assistance was calculated individually for each person who elected to return home.
The spokesman also said: “No one is detained on Manus – the RPC has been an open centre since April 2016.”
The men on Manus Island remain held in the same compounds they have been for more than three years, behind three-metre metal fencing, patrolled by armed guards, and they are not free to leave of their own volition. They are security screened and have their communications monitored.
Their only permitted movements are on scheduled buses to Lorengau township.
“They lie,” one detainee told Guardian Australia. “Of course we are not free. Our lives are much worse now.”

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