Here is a message I received this morning from a lady who is deeply concerned for the refugees held on Manus. I have modified it slightly. Please read it and ask yourself: is this really what Australia does to people fleeing persecution? People who have committed no offence?
Halloween is Festival of the Dead, This year, it is also the literal deadline for the Manus men still at Lombrun RPC.
On that date they are to be forced out of the compounds that have housed them for 4 years and into Lorengau.
For many this feels like an actual date with death.
They fear that PNG locals will fight them violently for every job or resource available and that, instead of liberation, their lives will become even more desperate.
Their fears have some foundation. Machete attacks and thefts have occurred during day trips on the island.
Men at Lorengau Transit Centre have gone mad and then died.
The kindness of some Manusians does not completely offset the fact that PNG is still a very harsh, struggling country. There has been envy and anger towards strangers who have been warehoused by Australia and who have no tribal allegiances.
Australia’s exercise in colonialism ended abruptly 40 years ago. This latest failed exercise in offshore detention has managed to signal to the world that we left PNG in chaos, one of the least safe travel destinations in the world.
The irony of men wanting a safe form of freedom being herded out the gates of RPC by force is acute.
There is no freedom to thrive waiting for them on November 1, 2017.
They see the trap. Moreover, their main strength has been their solidarity. Dispersal means disunity.
What the men have achieved together through fellowship, collective action and mutual compassion is also under attack.
On paper they have been given thorough medical discharges and records. In reality they get a bunch of untranslated words they don’t understand and a month’s supply of medication but little else.
These are medicines they would generally not have needed if in community detention in Australia. Tropical ulcers, antidepressants, sedatives would have been less necessary if they had been free to work. The risk of overdose is high and Manus hospital is not resourced to help.
Refugee allies in Australia might dream of protecting them in refuges or running a hospital ship. Doubtless they would feel the need to help locals, too.
The reality is that sustaining refugee hostages of the past 4 years is beyond the resources of most community activists. They have done a great deal to support the men across that time. And perhaps also to delude them that wholesale rescue was still possible.
Some lawyers have worked hard for the release of individual refugees. Deals were done with Border Force to conceal each release from publicity. The image of a boat blockade remains roughly intact.
The truth is that some boat arrivals have been admitted to Australia and others have not. The arbitrariness of the process is shocking.
So the Halloween deadline seems ominous in more ways than one.
Activists have strong bonds with these 700 men. They fundraised for phones, shoes and bath towels. They have counselled them through sleepless tropical nights and reached out to the families left behind.
As with the Rohingyans, it is perfectly clear that taking a plane back home is equally perilous. Some of the homesick have gone. They felt they could not leave their families unprotected in poverty for any longer.
Survival rates of those refouled is less clear. Some have found ways to cope.
The experience of those refugees transferred to America last month is another paradox. These men took planes, were given accommodation and a chance to find jobs. They feel “lucky”.
American gun violence, racism and poverty seems benign by comparison with the issues faced by PNG.
So the few handpicked, highly educated men perhaps not destroyed by the uncertainties of detention who were airlifted from Manus by America get a chance at life.
Hundreds more do not. And children remain trapped on Nauru: a small pile of rocks with machetes.
Then we have the plight of mainland refugees.
What is already dead is the compassion of Australia’s right wing conservatives and white supremacists.
They have spent a fortune to make an example of boat arrivals. Food, mouldy shipping containers or tents and guards have cost Australian taxpayers a great deal.
Breaking the smuggling trade has also resulted in waste of life.
My friend xx arrived on Manus after the Taliban came for him. A month earlier his father had received the Taliban’s death knock and did not survive. The family business was in repairing and reselling foreign vehicles. This was enough to incense fundamentalists. His mother and brothers have been cowering around the borders of Afghanistan ever since. His mum became catatonically depressed and eventually received treatment in a major city. The great fear was that the younger brother would be recruited by extremists. AR, a talented mechanic fluent in English, has used the 4 years to complete some online learning. He has also become atheist, deeply depressed and addicted to cigarettes. I helped with phones and call credit.
The family had earlier tried to send xx to Japan to escape all this on a trade visa. He was refused. Then they tried a boat from Indonesia.
Will xx find a way into PNG life? Will he be safe in PNG?
Australia is throwing away a stoic, resilient and talented future citizen.