February 18, 2014
The Abbott Government's media clampdown-- a veil of silence---- on anything to do with asylum seekers and border protection means that it is hard to ascertain what is happening in the concentration camp at Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, a borderline failed state. These are asylum seekers waiting to be processed. If they were not found to be a refugee, neither the Australian nor PNG governments would help them resettle in PNG. We don't know what will happen to them if they are found to be genuine refugees.
What we can gather from reports is that tension has been simmering for weeks in the centre; that there have been consecutive nights of rioting; that asylum seekers rioted, broke down internal fences within the camp between the Mike compound and Foxtrot compounds and breached the fences whilst protesting about the status of their refugee claims and resettlement status. We also know that around 77 people are injured (most with head wounds), one man is dead from a gunshot whilst another had his skull fractured.
It also appears, from local reports, that the local Manus Islanders are angry enough about the concentration camp in the middle of their home island to go on a violent rampage – breaking into the camp and attacking the inmates with machetes and bats. It also appears that they were aided by the local PNG police. There have been different reports about who was responsible for the alleged attacks: G4S guards, the PNG police or local residents.
The Immigration minister, Scott Morrison, is basically denying that the concentration camp's fences were breached by locals and PNG police, who then carried out “systematic and brutal” attacks on asylum seekers. His account is that the asylum seekers rioted. Morrison's long and successful campaign of dehumanisation and demonisation against asylum seekers continues.
In The Guardian Jeff Sparrow observes that:
Australia has deliberately cloaked its detention centre archipelago in so many layers of secrecy that we know almost nothing about what goes on there. The camps are the equivalent of private businesses remotely located in foreign countries, and everything about them is designed to frustrate journalists seeking to report on them.
We know that the camps in a poverty-stricken foreign country known for chronic law and order problems are designed to be cruel, and that the asylum seekers are going to suffer. The Conservative base demands that the asylum seekers live a bare life--a life exposed to death. Australia wants to frighten further asylum seekers from coming to Australia with the promise that they will be sent to Manus.
Presumably the intensity and extent of the deterrence (and repression) under the Abbott Government will continue to escalate to the point where the inmates are reduced to a state of physical decrepitude and existential disregard that one hesitates to call them living.
It is becoming obvious that injuries to the incarcerated asylum seekers were caused by machetes, knives, rocks and table legs employed by local people, including some employed by [security contractor] G4S. It is also the case that the PNG police fired gunshots.
It appears that the Australian staff, including guards, left the scene and played no part in seeking a resolution to the problem. If so, then the asylum seekers incarcerated in the camp were left to defend themselves. Morrison appears to condone this kind of suffering when he blames the detainees for rioting. Order needed to be restored.
The "locals" appear to be employees of the security firm G4S hired by Australia to run the centre who were at times backed up by the PNG mobile squad. If the mobile squads are responsible for violence at the Manus Island facility, this is not an exceptional event, it is part of pattern in PNG. It is a pattern Australia has ignored, and when inclined, applauded and sponsored.
The logic of the camps is to create inhuman treatment and horror because that acts as a form of deterrence. The conservative base would see the inhuman treatment, deaths and suicides as what the asylum seekers deserve. They latter are bad people and they need to be severely punished by systematic violence of incarceration in a concentration camp. If anything the severity of the sanctioned violence should be made increased.