Abdul Aziz Adam is one of the men on Manus Island who was forced to leave the regional processing centre in November 2017. Picture: supplied
Abdul Aziz Adam is one of the men on Manus Island who was forced to leave the regional processing centre in November 2017. Picture: supplied

Men abandoned on Manus Island pushed to the brink

A year ago, the world watched as the Australian government brutally forced the men it had sent to Manus Island to leave its regional processing centre.

Many of the men feared that once out of the centre they would be abandoned and forgotten. Their fears have come true.

Last week the Papua New Guinean Government hid the men out of sight when it sent most of those who were in Port Moresby for medical treatment back to Manus Island before the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.

Abdul is one of these men. Last year, he says he was beaten with a metal pole by PNG forces when he was forced out of the centre and lost part of his hearing. He now lives in agonising pain because of gastric issues, can only eat soft food and takes a large amount of medication every day. He had an appointment for surgery when he was told he needed to return to Manus Island.

Abdul's story is one of many. In a new report published by the Refugee Council of Australia and Amnesty International, these brave men tell the world what has happened to them since they were forced out of the centre. They have been speaking up for themselves, despite everything we are doing to break them.

Behrouz Boochani is one of the men abandoned by the Australian government on Manus Island. Picture: supplied
Behrouz Boochani is one of the men abandoned by the Australian government on Manus Island. Picture: supplied

It is a story that our government does not want told, just as it does not want to be reminded of these men and what it has done to them.

Over the years, our governments have gradually washed their hands of these men. This evasion of responsibility took another step after the centre was closed. Australia stopped providing torture and trauma counselling and interpreting services, and the remaining services Australia pays for are now provided by PNG contractors.

Health care have been cut significantly. There is only one small clinic that is not open after hours, so people are often sent to an understaffed local hospital, which lacks the required expertise. It does not have interpreters, nor does it have a reliable ambulance service.

If they cannot be treated on the Island, people are sent to Port Moresby. Many stay there for a long time without receiving proper treatment. While the hospital in Port Moresby is better equipped, it lacks many vital specialist services.

Many people have been told their health issues, including complex colorectal, heart or neurological illnesses, cannot be treated in PNG. Yet it is almost impossible for them to be sent to Australia for treatment, with only nine people being transferred in the 18 months to 30 July 2018.

The Lorengau hospital on Manus Island is understaffed and lacks expertise. Picture: supplied
The Lorengau hospital on Manus Island is understaffed and lacks expertise. Picture: supplied

Most shockingly, the number of mental health professionals in PNG supporting these men has halved since the beginning of the year. Two years ago, UNHCR found the men to have one of the highest rates of depression and anxiety disorders in the world. Three men have killed themselves since August last year, and many more have tried.

The only way out for almost all of these men is resettlement to the United States. However, the US has already rejected many recognised refugees for resettlement. This includes 82 per cent of the refugees so far processed from Iran on Nauru and Manus Island. This is particularly concerning given Iranians are by far the largest nationality group on both islands.

Two months ago, the Refugee Council of Australia and the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre told the world that the children on Nauru were broken. The men, too, are broken. In the past few months, more and more people have been self-harming, including a man who swallowed razor blades and nail clippers.

The people of Australia have shown that action can be taken for the children in Nauru. The same must now happen for the forgotten men of Manus. We can never give them back what they have lost but we can - and must - provide them with a path to get out of the hole that we have put them in.

Dr Joyce Chia is the director of policy for Refugee Council of Australia, and co-author Sahar Okhovat is senior policy officer for Refugee Council of Australia.