Manus Island situation “very messy"

A SWAN Hill refugee group has spoken out about the unfolding situation on Manus Island, where detainees have refused to leave the detention centre after it shut last month.

Manus Island detainees protested their expulsion from the centre. Picture: Senator Nick McKim via Facebook

Manus Island detainees protested their expulsion from the centre. Picture: Senator Nick McKim via Facebook

Swan Hill Community Issues Group convener Jill Pattenden accused Australia of "trying to wipe their hands of the problem".

About 600 detainees refused to leave the detention centre, insisting that they feared for their safety if forced to leave.

Since operations ceased on October 31, hygiene conditions in the centre had become dire and the detainees were given until 11am Saturday to leave.

About 90 detainees were forcibly removed from Australia's offshore processing centre on Saturday, but about 400 remain.

Ms Pattenden said the situation was "not very good".

"There seems to be great fear on the island at the moment," Ms Pattenden said.

"There are lots of rumours and lies going around, and the situation is very messy; it's hard to tell who is in charge.

"Australia is trying to wipe their hands of the problem."

Fellow Community Issues Group member David Hackett visited Canberra two weeks ago to lobby politicians about local refugees concerns.

"National Party members helped him write letters about the refugee situation in the Mallee," Ms Pattenden said.

"The local abattoirs are dependent on these men and they don't want to lose good workers.

"As a group, we really spend all our time supporting our local refugees and the issues that affect them."

Ms Pattenden said legitimate refugees on Manus Island should "absolutely" be brought to Australia for further processing.

Member for Mallee Andrew Broad says there is no "perfect policy when it comes to dealing with desperate people".

Speaking to The Guardian last Friday, Mr Broad said he never criticised people who sought refuge or moved to better themselves.

"If I was in their situation I think I would do the same, but the other thing is that there are 65 million people who are seeking refuge at the moment (in the world)," Mr Broad said.

He said the tensions on Manus Island put the Federal Government in a difficult situation.

"The government has opened some facilities in a different location that are an improvement to where they have been," he said.

"The Papua New Guinea Government is shutting down that camp and there is a standoff because some people want to stay where they are, even though that camp has no services.

"Then there's some difficulty on what jurisdiction we've got over them."

With a high number of refugees settled in the Mallee region, Mr Broad said he often heard stories about their experiences in seeking asylum.

"Usually they have flown from places such as Iran or Afghanistan to Malaysia, then to Indonesia by speedboat, then they'll attempt to go from Indonesia by boat to Australia and the average fee is about $10,000," he said.

"A hundred people are often put onto a boat, and at $10,000 per person, that is a pretty lucrative business.

"The people who are being exploited are the refugees themselves, there are people trying to profit out of people's desperation."

In April this year, Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton said the government's Operation Sovereign Borders had intercepted and returned "30 people smuggling boats and more than 765 people who attempted to reach Australia illegally" since the operation began in 2013.

Mr Broad said the policy was tough but was working in terms of stopping people from endangering their own lives.

"If we had a policy that allowed people to come by boat, then ultimately that translates to people being exploited and people drowning," he said.

"As much as it's an unpleasant policy to say that, 'If you come by boat, you won't get into the country', I can still put my hand on my heart as a compassionate and fair-minded Australian that it's the best-worst option.

"It has been effective and as a result of regaining the control of our borders, we've now been able to increase our compassionate refugee intake."

To read more about this story, grab a copy of Monday's Guardian (November 13).

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