By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
Five hundred refugees remain stranded on Manus Island off of Papua New Guinea’s northern coast. Their plight remains in the hands of the Australian government.
Refugees in unending holding pattern
These refugees find themselves in a detention centre due to an Australian policy that requires mandatory detention for those seeking asylum without a valid entry visa. According to a statement released by the Society for the Propagation of the Faith (Agenzia Fides) on Thursday, many of them celebrated their sixth Christmas in detention.
Cause of great suffering
The Communication Secretary for the Bishops of Papua New Guinea, Salesian Father Ambrose Pereira, wrote in the statement that the refugees’ situation causes the Bishops “great suffering”. He said that the refugees who had gone to Port Moresby for medical treatment were “brought back to Manus Island” during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit which took place from 17-18 November 2018 in Port Moresby. In the detention center, the refugees face “stress, trauma, overcrowding and malnutrition”, Fr Pereira stated.
Christmas, Fr Pereira wrote in the statement, “was just another night of detention on Manus Island”. He reported that there were at least three suicide attempts. “Most of them survive thanks to medicines, mostly anti-depressants, anti-anxiety, antipsychotics”, he wrote. The refugees are taking these drugs without the necessary prescriptions or medical follow-up.
Freedom is the solution
Rightly, Fr Pereira declared that no human being should be treated the way these refugees are being treated. “It is about abuse and neglect”, he declared. Amid the nightmare he said the “refugees are waiting for the day they are released, and we hope that 2019 will bring good news for them".
The Australian Bishops released a statement in December, directed to Australia’s “elected representatives”. In it, they urge them to resolve “the offshore detention crisis” as soon as they return from the Christmas break. “We cannot afford to have the plight of these people made even worse by making their futures the subject of bitter electoral disputation in the year ahead”, the Australian Bishops said in that statement.