HRW calls for Germany to pressure Australia over the Manus Island refugee situation

03.11.2017

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is on an official trip to Australia, should urge Australia's prime minister to "end the humanitarian crisis immediately" at Manus Island refugee camp, asylum seekers and human rights advocates said on Friday.

"Germany has a proud record of treating migrants humanely. President Steinmeier should ask (Malcolm) Turnbull to bring the men on Manus Island to safety," Elaine Pearson, Human Rights Watch's Australia director, said in a statement to journalists.

"Both countries are now UN Human Rights Council members, yet in this case, Australia is clearly not living up to what one would expect of a council member," she said.

The situation at the Manus Island refugee camp in Papua New Guinea has deteriorated since Australia shut down the centre on Tuesday.

Some 600 refugees have refused to move to temporary accommodation in the island's main town – some of which is not yet ready – due to fears of being attacked by locals.

Electricity and food supplies have been cut off, while men at the camp have been digging into the ground to find drinking water according to photos shared on social media.

Behrouz Boochani, an Iranian refugee at the Manus camp, said on Friday that he wants the German president to put pressure on the Australian government to reach a "humane solution."

"It is unacceptable that the Australian government is doing these kind of barbaric policies as a western country," Boochani told journalists. "Germany (has) already accepted more than a million refugees and as a big nation should lead the western countries to do their responsibility at this historical period... We are asking that Germany support in any way that they can," he said.

"To the honourable German government: we're merely refugees who unfortunately ended up in these merciless offshore detentions," Hass Hassballah, another refugee on Manus, told journalists. "We experienced torture for more than four years and are still undergoing it. Please, in the name of humanity, we ask you for emergency help."

Ezatullah Kakar, a Pakistani refugee on Manus, said he has been in detention for the last 1,700 days.

"Stop politics on human beings. Stop torturing me. Let me be free. I am a human being," he said.

The UN has called Manus "a humanitarian emergency unfolding," while Human Rights Watch said on Friday the men in the camp are weak and fatigued from lack of food and some have urgent medical needs.

"Refugees and asylum seekers are suffering on Manus because of Australia's intransigence. This sets a terrible example for the rest of the world," said Pearson, who is currently on Manus. 

Also on Friday, students briefly occupied the building of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection in Sydney asking authorities to bring Manus refugees to Australia. Three protesters were arrested according to local media.

The Manus centre, together with another on the Pacific island of Nauru, was set up by the Australian government to hold asylum-seekers trying to enter the country by boat for offshore processing. The policy has attracted criticism from the UN and rights advocates.

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday that she would raise the issue of refugees with Turnbull during her first visit to Australia on Sunday, reiterating an offer to accept up to 150 refugees from the centres. 

In the past, Canberra has rejected New Zealand's offer over fears that it may open a back door to refugees to come to Australia.

"New Zealand has repeatedly offered Australia a face-saving way out of this mess, it's well overdue for the Australian government to accept that offer," Pearson said. 

Australian opposition Labor Party leader Bill Shorten also urged the government to consider New Zealand's offer.

"If it's not a viable option, then Turnbull should explain why. Doing nothing is not an option," Shorten said on Friday.    (dpa)

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