Yesterday, less than 72 hours since Scott Morrison’s Liberal-National government achieved a shock victory in Australia’s federal election, Kurdish author and asylum-seeker Behrouz Boochani tweeted that “The situation in Manus is out of control, today two more people attempted suicide. One last night, raising the total to nine now. No one is able to help anyone.”
Behrouz, who has been held in the Australian-run Manus Island offshore detention centre since 2013, declared that the “federal election had a huge negative imapact [sic] on people in Manus and Nauru”. In another tweet yesterday morning, he shared a chilling depiction of the situation on the ground:
Since the coalition’s election victory on Saturday night, at least four refugees in Australia’s offshore detention camps have attempted suicide, according to refugees, advocates, and police who spoke to Agence France-Presse. Manus Provincial Police Commander David Yapu confirmed he was aware of at least ten attempts in total.
"It's an issue we are faced with right now,” he said. “Over the weekend we had an attempted arson of their [the refugees’] rooms, and right now we have some that are refusing to eat."
The spate of suicide attempts appears to have been triggered by the surprising turn of events on election night, when the Labor party—who had said they would be open to a New Zealand offer to expedite the resettlement of refugees on Manus and Nauru—was defeated at the polls. “People have completely lost hope that the [coalition] gov will accept the New Zealand offer,” Behrouz tweeted. “The current fascist gov has roots in Manus and Nauru… Australia's become more fascist now after the election.”
The coalition government has previously denounced New Zealand's offer to take 150 refugees each year, claiming it would open up a "back-door" to Australia, Radio New Zealand reports. "If they want to pass a law in the Australian parliament that these people if they go to New Zealand never come to Australia, we are happy with that," said Behrouz. As it stands, some 800 people are currently being detained without trial on Manus and Nauru. Seven have died on Manus and 12 in offshore detention since 2013.
"Based on my experience providing mental support and trying to keep them positive I feel speechless because I was giving them hope using the election," said Sudanese refugee Abdul Aziz Muhamat. "The only thing that will give hope to the refugees on Manus and Nauru is, number one: permanent resettlement elsewhere, not necessarily in Australia."
The newly-reelected government is also currently attempting to repeal legislation that allows for the temporary transfer of sick asylum seekers from offshore detention centres to Australia, SBS reports. The so-called “medevac bill”, which passed through Parliament against the coalition’s wishes earlier this year, means refugees would be able to come to Australia on the advice of a medical professional to receive appropriate medical assessment and treatment that’s unavailable on Manus and Nauru. Yesterday, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg insisted that it remained a government priority to unwind that bill—despite the likely possibility that their attempts will be vetoed by the Senate.
"Let me just make it very clear, it is our policy to reverse that legislation," he said.
The government’s hardline refugee policy has been broadly condemned by the United Nations and human rights organisations. "We have run out of vocabulary to describe the harm wrought," the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Canberra said, while Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition suggested that the outcome of the election on the weekend was the final straw for many of the people detained in offshore detention.
"It has been building for six years, but the weekend's election result has precipitated a crisis that the government cannot afford to ignore," he declared.
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