RNZ: Protesters condemn govt’s Manus Island silence

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Emile Donovan


The government is being urged to take a stand against Australia’s policy around asylum seekers, four years on from the official re-opening of the detention centre on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island.

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About 30 people attended a protest at the Australian Embassy in Wellington today. Photo: RNZ / Emile Donovan

On this day four years ago, 19 July 2013, the Australia government under then-prime minister Kevin Rudd agreed a deal to detain all asylum seekers arriving by boat at a detention centre on the island while they were being processed.

Shortly after, another detention centre on the remote Micronesian island of Nauru was also reopened.

Those assessed and deemed legitimate refugees were allowed to resettle in Papua New Guinea.

The decision was met with local and international outrage, with detractors saying the decision was inhumane, and unfairly punished refugees.

There have been well-documented reports of human rights abuses of asylum seekers on both islands.

The high cost of detaining the asylum seekers has also been heavily criticised, with reports citing figures up to $7.5 billion.

According to the Australian government’s website, more than 1250 people were being detained at both detention centres as of last October.

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Protesters outside the Australian Embassy. Photo: RNZ / Emile Donovan

About 30 people turned up to a protest today outside the Australian Embassy in Wellington, urging the New Zealand government to flex its ethical gumption and condemn the Australian government for its actions.

One of the protesters, Victoria Quade – who was born in Melbourne but has lived in Wellington for 30 years – said Australia’s treatment of desperate people was shameful.

“I teach English to migrant and refugees. They’re people. I don’t know if I could cope with this kind of thing that some of my students have faced and that’s why I’m here.”

The protest was organised by Amnesty International’s New Zealand branch.

Amnesty International New Zealand's executive director Grant Bayldon.

Grant Bayldon. Photo: RNZ / Emile Donovan

Its executive director, Grant Bayldon, said New Zealand’s passiveness in refusing to take a stand against its Antipodean neighbours was unconscionable, and flew in the face of the country’s principled past.

“The New Zealand government has been vocal speaking out on human rights abuses in other countries around the world, like Saudi Arabia and Iran, but it’s been completely silent on the issue of the abuse of asylum seekers and refugees in offshore detention by the Australian government.

“We definitely need to hear much more from the New Zealand government on this issue.”