‘Catholic Professionals PNG’ horrified at Manus solution
By Atty. Paul Harricknen
Catholic Professionals PNG
20 DEC 2012. The Post Courier of 17 December 2012 reported that a total of 101 asylum seekers are now detained at a makeshift centre in Manus Island. The fourth batch of 34 people were flown into Manus from Australia on Saturday, 15 December 2012. They were accompanied by Australian Federal Police, Immigration Officials, Interpreters, Children Services, and medical personnel. The detainees include men, women and children from Iran, Afghanistan, India and Sri Lanka.
I agree with the United Nations High Commission on Refugees that Papua New Guinea has no legal framework to deal with refugees as it has been the case in the past with the West Papuans. The Migration Act does not deal with refugees. Similarly the Migration Act does not adequately deal with the Asylum Seekers.
The International Human Rights Day was celebrated on Monday, 10 December 2012. PNG is a member State of the United Nations and is obliged under various UN Human Rights Conventions. PNG also boasts of having a Constitution with respect of human rights enshrined in it.
These desperate and vulnerable people also have rights to personal freedom and decent care. Their personal welfare is as important as their personal liberty. West Papuans have been living in PNG for many years without their legal status determined. Now the asylum seekers have been brought into the country without their free consent and are literally detained in Manus. This presents a serious human rights issue for both groups of people.
But PNG is actually in breach of the Constitutional human rights of the asylum seekers by detaining them in Manus. PNG is also in breach of its moral responsibility by refusing to determine the legal status of the West Papuans living in the country. Without a legal status, their rights are very much restricted in terms of employment, movement, education and much of the civil and political rights.
I recall the statement of one of the asylum seekers who was detained in Manus and whom I represented in 2003, Mr. Aladdin Maysarah Salem Sisalem: a son of a Palestinian Refugee in Kuwait, who ran away from there to Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Thursday Island in Australia and was eventually returned to PNG and detained at Manus. He asked: "What crime have I committed to deserve all this humiliation and suffering for most of my life? Is it because I was born to a Palestinian refugee father? I am being denied refugee status when in fact I was born a refugee... I am fit and healthy and have a good trade as a very experienced car mechanic. I can work in my trade and be a productive member in a good society. Please, give me a new lease in life. Please help me." Aladdin with the other 356 asylum seekers at the time revolted against their detention in Manus. The Post Courier of 19 September 2002 ran a cover page story titled "Refugees revolt, fence uprooted by chanting protestors." They put up notices inside the detention center saying, "We request all men, women and children of Manus Island to help us get out of this jail."
There are children among the adults at the detention centre in Manus. But PNG has acceded to the 1951 Status of Refugees Convention and the Convention of the Rights of Children. As a member State PNG is under international obligation to protect the human rights and welfare of the asylum seekers and children. The Convention of the Rights of Children states that "the child by reason of his physical and mental immaturity needs special safeguard and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth."
Australians must stop dictating on PNG and other smaller nations. Their perception that PNG is not a country that cares about the rule of law is unacceptable. We have a Constitution and laws to regulate activities within our borders. Australia cannot make its laws extra-territorial as it seems to be in the case of the asylum seekers.
And for PNG it is not simply a case of helping a big brother. There are serious issues of law and human rights of desperate and vulnerable people at stake, along with legal and moral responsibilities that should override any inducements of money, aid and cheque book diplomacy. PNG cannot ignore the human rights provisions of its Constitution and deny people’s rights to personal freedom under Sect. 42(1)(5) and Sect. 37(1) of the Constitution when these people are brought onto the shores of PNG without their consent. Any denial of access to legal advice and representation to the asylum seekers also violates their rights under Sect. 37(1) and 42(2) of our Constitution.
The Catholic Church has always maintained, both in Australia and PNG, that the two countries deal to keep these desperate and vulnerable people detained for an indefinite period of time is illegal and inhumane. (www.cbcpngsi.org – firstname.lastname@example.org)