Asylum seekers in PNG.

Alan Bradley abradley1 at
Mon Feb 18 05:05:15 MST 2002

>From the Post-Courier ( ):

 Monday 18th, February, 2002

'Help get us out from this jail'

The sign that tells the inside story of the Manus asylum seekers' camp

"WE request from all men, women and children of Manus Ireland (Island) to
help us to out from this jail." That was the pitiful message written with
black paint on a piece of wooden hardboard and erected at the gate leading
into the asylum seekers' processing centre at the Lombrum patrol boat base
in Manus Province.
The hand-painted message caught journalists, who were on a tour of the
facility, "unaware" as they scrambled to take note of the only depressing
item they spotted throughout the trip.
Journalists from the Post-Courier, The National, Independent, PNG FM and the
Australian Broadcasting Corporation visited the centre on February 9, a
one-day trip sponsored by the Australian government.
Acting Australian High Commissioner Nicholas Coppel accompanied the
The press was taken on the tour following adverse publicity on the asylum
seekers, in The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper. The newspaper said the
asylum seekers sent by Australia to Manus were injured in escape attempts,
had potentially fatal diseases, had staged hunger strikes and wrecked
property during protests.
The processing centre in Manus Province has 356 asylum seekers. Iraqi
nationals make up the biggest group with 330 with the rest numbering between
two and 10 from Bangladesh, Iran, Pakistan, Palestine and Turkey. There are
211 males and 119 females. Children at the centre, between a month and 17
years of age, numbered 124. The camp has 58 families and 98 single people.
The Port Moresby-based reporters on their arrival in Manus met landowners of
the patrol boat base and the local level government president. A courtesy
call was made on the commander of the base, before we inspected the catering
facility, the Lombrum hospital and the accommodation units housing the
asylum seekers.
Benefits to villagers who lived within the vicinity of the processing centre
were major concerns to Los Negros LLG President Paul Pogolou, and landowners
John Lou and Nicky Bohu.
Mr Pogolou said some youths in his electorate were working for Lae-based
security firm Protect Security and catering firm Eurest. Protect Security
provides security within the asylum seekers camp.
However, he expressed concern about villagers not being able to sell local
produce to Eurest. The catering company purchased most of its food from Lae
and other provinces.
Lombrum landowner group representative John Lou, claimed local youths
employed by building firm Lae Builders and Contractors were not on steady
wages. Poloka landowners representative Nicky Bohu said the landowners, like
the Manus Provincial Government, agreed to accommodate the processing centre
on humanitarian grounds.
At a briefing with the officer in-charge of the base, Commander Michael
Lamusan, we were given the first insight of the benefits that the naval base
experienced because of the PNG Government's decision to put the centre in
Commander Lamusan said Lombrum was changed after three months of the
processing centre being established, due to renovations and maintenance work
funded by the Australian government. He said these included accommodation
for the junior sailors, showers and toilets, upgrading of the water
reticulation plant, upgrading of the unit's sewerage system, officers mess
and their accommodation and dining facility.
"As the commanding officer of this base, I am satisfied with the navy's role
and benefit as anticipated to the base," Commander Lamusan said.
The head of the PNG office for the International Office for Migration, Steve
Hamilton, said IOM was not responsible for the asylum seekers' eligibility
to be classified as genuine refugees. The IOM was responsible for the camp's
administration and the asylum seekers' welfare, he said.
"Who comes here and where they go next is determined from resettlement
countries and Papua New Guinea," Mr Hamilton said.
He said there was no ethnic tension between the different groups and
nationalities in the camp. He said weekly meetings between IOM officials and
the asylum seekers gave the displaced people the opportunity to air their
grievances. "We would never like it when journalists sneak into the base and
get half of the story. A lot of reporting was maybe not as accurate as it
should have been," Mr Hamilton said.
"I never actually saw the paper (Sydney Morning Herald) but from what I
heard about it, the concerns about health (in the report) were not
Mr Hamilton said IOM was extending social services at the camp. He said the
organisation was trying to keep the displaced people "busy" with educational
opportunities. The IOM has five Arabic-speaking liaison officers, an
Arabic-speaking psychiatrist and an Arabic-speaking doctor ready to attend
to the asylum seekers.
"We do run schools almost every day including kindergarten. They learn
English and Arabic. As we get more teachers on the ground, we will branch
out and give them more subjects to study. We want to make sure that their
minds stay active as well as their bodies while they are here," he said.
The media was given a "drive-by" observation of the asylum seekers'
accommodation. A PNG Foreign Affairs official who accompanied the media on
the trip to Manus instructed us not to take photos of the facility.
When driving past the centre, Mr Hamilton said the displaced people had
three meals a day and had satellite television to keep them entertained. All
the asylum seekers' accommodation units were air-conditioned. Single people
had separate eating facilities from families. The Lombrum military hospital
was transformed, from years of neglect, to a new-look facility matching that
of private hospitals in Port Moresby. PNG Defence Force medical practitioner
Dr Greg Hosea, based at the Lombrum hospital, said the hospital was being
given a "new lease of life" courtesy of the Australian government.
The reporters were led through the military hospital, notable attractions
being newly painted wards and examination rooms, as well as new medical
equipment worth thousands of kina.
IOM doctors working at the refurbished and renovated hospital, Dr Ashok
Sharma and Dr Vincent Keane, were on hand to answer questions.
Dr Sharma said asylum seekers often used the hospital. He said they were
treated for mainly seasonal diseases. Also, some asylum seekers were often
taken to the hospital for intravenous fluids when they became dehydrated
because of the weather.
Dr Keane said medical supplies to meet the needs of the displaced people
were comprehensive. He said there was no problem in getting drugs and
equipment at Lombrum.
"To my knowledge, we have had two confirmed cases of malaria among the
asylum seekers," Dr Keane said.
He said the two malaria victims responded well to treatment and were fine.
"I have not heard anything about outbreaks of serious diseases (among the
asylum seekers). There was, earlier on, a suggestion of a typhoid case but
that has not been confirmed. The entire population has been vaccinated
against typhoid," Dr Keane said.
Dr Keane said the centre's sanitation situation as well as its food and
water supply was excellent. He said he saw no likelihood of an epidemic
occurring within the processing centre.
Dr Hosea said he was happy to see the military hospital being re-equipped,
adding, however, the institution had a shortage of specialist staff. And the
PNGDF has asked the National Health Department to help by sending
technicians to operate the new machines. The military hospital would
function fully when given extra staff.
Mr Coppel, when asked about the cost of the hospital's refurbishment, said:
"All the extra cost of this facility is being borne by the Australian
government. It (refurbishment) is ongoing, so the amount is still coming."
He said the camp was being expanded to take up to 1000 asylum seekers. The
centre's current capacity is 500 to 600 people.
Eurest project manager Norman Gomm told reporters they were able to prepare
food for 1000 people. He said they are also catering for the junior sailor's
mess and the asylum seekers.
He said the company has 80 employees of which 80 per cent are Manus
Lack of cooking qualifications on the island resulted in experts being
brought in from Lae as well as Port Moresby.

Copyright, 2001, Post-Courier Online.

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