The unfolding disgrace of Australia’s treatment of the men it has detained on Manus Island is appalling to watch. It is an event of unimagined inhumanity, of complete disdain for the life of human beings, and of complete disregard for the rule of law.
Having established this centre as part of its ‘border protection’ policy – a term that allows the reality of human suffering to be ignored – the Australian government (current and former have to share the blame here) now simply walks away, abandoning those who had both a right to Australia’s protection and to whom Australia owed a duty of care.
Most Australian staff have left the island, and the Australian government says it is all now a matter for the PNG government. Our offshore policy has riven local communities, created tension between its civic authorities, and established a parlous stalemate between refugees, locals and the PNG government. As Australian staff fly home, they leave behind legal and political uncertainty – and the most combustible uncertainty of all, the safety of the men. “A foreseeable mess” is how a former executive of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection describes it to me. “This is the inevitable end stage of a ‘we’re making it up as we go’ approach to policy.”
It is time for the Australian government to either accept the offer of the New Zealand government for the men still remaining on Manus Island to be settled in New Zealand, or for the men to be brough to Australia.
No other course of action is humanely acceptable.