Australians protest refugee situation on Manus Island

(MENAFN- Gulf Times) Hundreds of people protested yesterday in Melbourne and Sydney over a situation unfolding on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island, where refugees and asylum seekers have been in a limbo since Australia closed down a detention centre this week.
In Perth, visiting German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he had raised the Manus Island situation during a meeting yesterday with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
In Sydney, hundreds of people braved the rain to attend a protest at Hyde Park to call for an end to the refugee camp situation.
Ian Rintoul, a spokesman for the Refugee Action Coalition, said the Australian government was trying to drive the refugees and asylum seekers out of the centre and 'into even more unsafe conditions. The men had no safe place and no security and were not free, he told the rally.
In Melbourne, recorded messages from men who were still inside the Manus centre were played to a rally of hundreds of supporters.
'We are forgotten people who have been tortured...even though we have committed no crime, one of the men said in his message.
'Our situation is getting worse and we need your help, another man said. 'Will Australians stand up and speak for humanity if you think refugees are humans?
Adam Bandt, a parliamentarian for the Greens party, criticised the 'cold eyes of Australian immigration minister Peter Dutton and the
'hell-hole he said the government had forced asylum seekers into.
'If the definition of terror is to use violence and threaten people's lives for political purposes, then Peter Dutton is a terrorist,
Bandt said, adding that the minister should be 'held to account for this crime against humanity.
Steinmeier, who is in Perth to attend a German-Australian business conference, said he was told Australia was looking for a quick solution to the refugee crisis that included resettlement options.
'I was assured that options for better care and accommodation for the remaining refugees will be examined, Steinmeier said.
Human Rights Watch and refugees on the island on Friday called on Steinmeier to probe Turnbull about Manus.
'Germany has a proud record of treating migrants humanely. President Steinmeier should ask Turnbull to bring the men on Manus Island to safety, Elaine Pearson, the group's Australia director, said in a statement to DPA.
Behrouz Boochani, an Iranian refugee at the Manus camp, said Friday that he wanted the German president to put pressure on the Australian government to reach a 'humane solution.
Turnbull has been criticized for not acting on the Manus crisis.
The opposition Labor party pressured Turnbull to ask US President Donald Trump to speed up the resettling of refugees in the United States.
'Turnbull is meeting with President Trump in coming weeks, in Asia, he should raise again the possibility of taking some people, Labor Leader Bill Shorten told reporters in Melbourne.
'There is something going on at Manus which is deeply disturbing to the Australian people, he said.
Australia reached a refugee swap deal with the administration of Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, to resettle up to 1,250 refugees.
Trump has called the agreement 'a dumb deal but has agreed to honour it.
Only 54 people have been resettled in the US so far.
Turnbull is expected to come under more pressure today during the first visit from New Zealand's newly elected prime minister, Jacinda Ardern.
Ardern has said she would raise the refugee issue and has reiterated an offer to accept up to 150 refugees.
Shorten supported the plan, saying yesterday in Melbourne, 'the government should accept that offer.
'Where you have got 600 people without food and water for days, the government needs to take an active interest in their welfare,
Shorten said.
The situation at the Manus Island refugee camp has deteriorated since Australia shut down the centre last Tuesday.
Some 600 refugees have refused to move to temporary accommodation — some of which is not yet ready — in the island's main town 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 and collecting rainwater in rubbish bins.
The UN has called the situation 'a humanitarian emergency unfolding.
The Manus Island centre and another on the Pacific island of Nauru were set up by the Australian government to hold for offshore processing asylum seekers trying to enter the country by boat.
The policy has attracted criticism from the UN and rights advocates.


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