The VICE Guide to Right Now

All Hell Is Breaking Loose on Manus Island

The Australian Government has cut the power, cut the water, cut off food. And 600 detainees have barricaded themselves inside.

by Maddison Connaughton
31 October 2017, 3:45am

Image via Twitter/Nick McKim

It's 31 degrees on Manus Island today, the home of one of Australia's two controversial offshore detention centres. And the Australian Government has cut the water supply in an effort to force some 600 male detainees to leave the centre once and for all. The food supply has also been cut, as has the power, and all Australian staff have left—handing the centre back to the Papua New Guinean army.

Journalist and detained asylum seeker Behrouz Boochani has been tweeting from Manus throughout the day, painting a picture of a situation that's rapidly deteriorating.

Many asylum seekers have voluntarily left Manus ahead of the centre's permanent closure. However, some 600 detainees are refusing to leave and have barricaded themselves inside saying they fear for their safety if they enter the local community.

Manus' closure was announced last year, after the PNG High Court ruled it was unconstitutional in April 2016. However, there's never been a clear plan laid out for detainees leaving the centre.

Over the past year or so, the Australian Government has tried a number of avenues to resettle those held in Manus. Perhaps the most high profile has been a refugee swap deal with the United States, which was brought to light when a transcript of Malcolm Turnbull and Donald Trump's fiery first conversation was leaked.

Trump slammed the deal as "dumb" and politically toxic for his new administration. To date, only around 20 refugees have been resettled into the US.

Beyond this deal, with the centre closing, detainees have few options. They can return to their home country from which they fled, or seek permanent settlement in PNG or elsewhere. They could also move into Lorengau town on Manus Island, or over to Australia's other offshore centre on Nauru—but these are just temporary options. Longterm, it's not clear where they are expected to go.

A group of Manus Island detainees have launched legal action today over how the centre's closure has been handled, saying cutting basic services infringes on their human rights. According to the Guardian, the centre's water supply has been cut off since Sunday and the only water available is from large bins that the detainees filled themselves in preparation. The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting that Manus Island locals are now looting the detention centre, although they have not been able to confirm this.

Greens Senator Nick McKim is on Manus Island, and has been granted permission to enter the centre.

More as this story develops.

Papua New Guinea
Manus Island
Peter Dutton
Australian Government