Three days without food as Manus Island refugee standoff drags on
Posted November 2, 2017 9:42 p.m. EDT
(CNN) — After three days with almost no food, Behrouz Boochani struggles to find the strength to write messages on his phone, but he fears if he doesn't the outrage will fall silent.
An refugee from Iran, Boochani, and around 600 other refugees and asylum seekers, spent another night in darkness Thursday, swatting away mosquitoes in the stifling heat of Manus Island, Papua New Guinea (PNG).
They've had little food or clean water since Tuesday when Australian authorities handed the Manus Island immigration processing center back to the PNG Defence Force, which owns the Naval Base on which it was built.
Since then, efforts by some sympathetic locals to deliver food have been blocked, according to the refugees and Amnesty International. The men managed to sneak some food into the center Thursday, they said, but it was only enough for a few bites each.
"People are struggling with starvation, and at the same time don't feel safe in the center or safe enough to go out because of their previous bad experiences," Boochani said by text message from the center. He and others are powering their cellphones with solar chargers.
aWarned to leave
For months, Australian authorities have been warning the men, from countries like Iran, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, that they must move to new accommodation in Lorengau, the main town on Manus Island. However, they're refusing to go, claiming they're at risk of attack from locals who don't want them there.
The Australian and PNG governments announced last year the center would close, following a PNG Supreme Court ruling that the men were being deprived of their personal liberty. The gates were opened, allowing the refugees to leave, but many reported being attacked by locals.
In a statement issued Friday, the Australian government said claims it had "abandoned" the men were untrue. The government said the men, who it referred to as "former residents," were free to move to three "suitable alternative accommodation options," which were "standing by to receive (them)."
They are West Lorengau Haus, East Lorengau Transit Center and Hillside Haus.
"All provide refugees and failed-asylum seekers with food, drinking water, access to health services, some recreational facilities, and more," the statement said.
In recent days, the PNG police, advocates and the United Nations have all claimed the accommodation provided was not ready for the arrival of more than 600 men.
PNG Chief Superintendent Dominic D. Kakas told CNN in an email dated November 2 that at least one of the new facilities, Hillside Haus, was "not ready to accommodate refugees." "The contractor is still working on the site to complete and restore water and power and mess facility," the email said.
In a statement published the same day, the UN's refugee agency said that as of Monday, October 30, construction of West Lorengau Haus was "incomplete."
"Containers are surrounded by mud and do not have electrical or water connections as yet. Construction is being significantly hampered by rain," the statement said.
Monday court hearing
On Monday, the PNG Supreme Court is due to hear an injunction filed on behalf of Boochani, against Papua New Guinea and Immigration Minister Petrus Thomas.
It claims Boochani's and the other refugees' constitutional rights have been breached by denying them the "basic amenities and necessities of life" in an attempt to force them to move.
The men were so desperate for water on Wednesday that they dug into the ground, looking for a water source. They found some and have been boiling it to drink.
Of the 606 men, 156 are asylum seekers who have been found not to be refugees or refused to submit refugee claims, the injunction says.
The remainder have been found to be refugees, who have been given the option of settling in Papua New Guinea, or moving to Cambodia or the island of Nauru.
All were detained under Australia's policy of offshore detention for asylum seekers who arrive by boat. In 2013, the government announced that no asylum seeker who arrived by boat would ever be settled in Australia.
The Australian government says the policy aims to put an end to people smuggling and stop deaths at sea.
The refugees say they won't be leaving the detention center until the country offers them a safe place to settle. For many, that's no longer Australia.
"We will never move to another prison. We will never settle for anything less than freedom. Only freedom," Boochani tweeted Friday.