Sat, Nov 04, 2017 - Page 6 News List

NZ offers to resettle Manus detainees

DEPRESSION:The UNHCR’s representative said that a key concern for the refugees is a lack of medication, as about 20 percent have been prescribed anti-depressants

AFP, SYDNEY

Refugees barricaded inside a shuttered Australian detention camp in Papua New Guinea were becoming “distraught and depressed,” detainees said yesterday, as New Zealand renewed an offer to resettle some of them.

The remote camp on Papau New Guinea’s Manus Island — one of two centers holding asylum seekers who tried to reach Australia by boat — was on Tuesday proclaimed closed after the Australian High Court ruled it was unconstitutional.

Australia shut off water and electricity to the camp, but about 600 men remain inside, fearful for their safety if they move to transition centers where locals are reportedly hostile.

“The current mood of the men is they are really distraught and depressed,” Manus detainee and Sudanese refugee Abdul Aziz Adam told reporters.

“We are just helping and caring for each other and trying to help each other just to stay alive,” the 24-year-old said.

As the standoff entered its fourth day, New Zealand’s new Labour Party government renewed an offer to take 150 of the refugees, which was initially made in 2013, but never acted upon by Australia.

“We would like to work with Australia to help find a compassionate solution to this,” New Zealand Minister of Immigration Iain Lees-Galloway told Radio New Zealand.

“We’ve got an offer of 150 people and we really hope that Australia takes that up... We are here to help,” he said.

The issue is set to arise when New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who rose to power just last month, meets conservative Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in Sydney tomorrow.

Iranian Behrouz Boochani, another Manus detainee, yesterday told reporters that the detainees viewed New Zealand as a “big opportunity to take us from this hellhole prison.”

“We are asking the New Zealand PM [prime minister] to make a serious negotiation with the Australian government and if Australia rejects it again, to try to do a deal with PNG [Papua New Guinea],” he said.

Boochani added that the detainees were able to “collect water in rubbish bins” after a downpour the day before, and were also boiling water pooled inside a hole they had dug to drink.

The impasse has frustrated Manus Province Governor Charlie Benjamin, who accused the Australian and Papua New Guinean governments of using his island as a “dumping ground” for the asylum seekers.

“The ministers involved in signing the agreement to bring the asylum seekers to Manus in 2013 didn’t give a thought about the Manus people,” he told the Papua New Guinean newspaper National. “They never did one time involve me in the negotiation, although I was the governor at that time.”

UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative Lam Nai Jit on Thursday told reporters tensions were likely to rise as the men battled the “extremely hot and humid” weather.

A key concern for the refugees has been the lack of medication, particularly for those being treated for mental health conditions.

“Around 20 percent of people in the detention center are being prescribed anti-depression drugs for obviously being depressed or for post-traumatic stress,” Australian Senator Nick McKim, who visited the center on Tuesday, told reporters late on Thursday.

The Australian newspaper, which gained access to the compound on Thursday, said some of the men had not been outside the site since they were taken there years ago, and were almost hysterical about leaving.

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