After 10 minutes, I got up to leave, and one man said, “No, give everything to us.” He had a kitchen knife. Some of them had machetes. He held the knife to my neck. I took my bag off and put it on the ground. But still he kept the knife to my throat. I tried to move away, to sit down. He got angry that I was moving away. I said, “Don’t worry, whatever you want you can take.” He said, “I hate white men.”
Masoud said he saw a local man he knew standing nearby:
I asked for his help. But they were together, the knife guy threw my bag to his friend, talking in local language. Then he said, “Give me your hand.” I said, “Don’t kill me, please. We are friends.” And he pulled me by the hand, he was dragging me into bushes… I tried to take my arm away and then he slashed the knife across my wrist. It was very sharp. I held my hand and walked away. There was lots of bleeding. My tendon was cut. I ran to the governor’s house and asked for help. One old lady she tried to wrap it with a dress. They called a vehicle to take me to Lorengau hospital. But that dress it was full of blood. Soaking. So they brought me a towel.
In August, Ahmad (not his real name), an Iranian asylum seeker was attacked so severely that his skull was fractured and he required emergency medical treatment in Australia. He told Human Rights Watch:
I was walking to the supermarket late at night and I don’t remember what happened to me. In the morning when I woke up others told me that someone had hit me in the head with a metal rod and had stolen my money, my cellphone, and my friend’s phone. The day after when I returned to the camp, I went to see a doctor at IHMS (International Health and Medical Services) because my head still hurt very badly and I could not really move my neck. After taking an X-ray, the doctor told me that my skull was fractured and immediately hospitalized me.
After two days, medical staff transferred Ahmad to Port Moresby, and after several days, he was sent to a hospital in Brisbane, Australia. He said:
I don’t know the people who hit me. I had not gotten in trouble with anyone. They hit me and I felt unconscious and they stole my belongings. I didn’t get a chance to file a complaint because I was hospitalized and transferred immediately. Manus is a very unsafe place but I still did not expect to be beaten for a small amount of cash and cellphones. If they had asked for them, I would have given them what they wanted. They beat me in way that I could have died.
About 10 p.m. one September evening, a large group of local youths beat two Afghans near the transit center. Raul (not his real name) said, “I went out and they wanted to fight us. I said, ‘We are friends, we do not fight.’ But they did not understand us. They dragged me off the road. They beat me with sticks, with rocks, until I fell down dizzy. They took my phone, my money.” When Human Rights Watch interviewed Raul four days later, his face was still swollen from the beating: “I hadn’t left the transit center in three months because I don’t feel safe. This is the third or fourth time I have had an incident like this happen to me.”
A Pakistani refugee described being robbed at knifepoint about 3 p.m. in Lorengau town in September: “I went with my friend to buy a chicken in Ward Six. I was talking to my family on the phone. Six locals came and one of them put a knife to my neck and said, ‘Leave the phone.’ They took my phone and ran away.”
A Rohingya refugee described being attacked on a July afternoon: “I was in the local market buying vegetables and the other refugees were also buying vegetables. They left the market, they were followed, and there were not many people. The group of locals threatened them with knives and sticks. The men gave them whatever they had.”
Many refugees and asylum seekers said that they felt the situation had been getting worse in recent months and as a result were too fearful to travel to town anymore. One refugee said, “Before the buses were full coming to town, now hardly anyone wants to come. Everyone is afraid.” A Pakistani refugee who stayed at the transit center for more than two years said, “Before, the locals were very nice when we were a small community. But now they are rude, they are always saying abuse to us – calling us terrorists, criminals.”
A Rohingya refugee from Burma said:
I am so fearful every time I come to town, I just can’t wait to get back to the center. Many of my friends have been beaten, they have been robbed, they have been assaulted. There is no one here to protect us. It wasn’t that bad in the beginning when we started to come out, but it is getting worse. I haven’t left the center since one and a half months ago. This place is very isolated, the locals have no understanding of people from other countries. We are walking around in nice clean clothes with mobile phones. The locals don’t know what it means to be a refugee, they only know we are prisoners, they were told we are bad people.
A Papuan from Manus said, “It’s hard for the refugees here. They have no wontok (tribal familial bonds) here. It’s dangerous for them to walk around, especially alone in areas like Ward Six.”
Police Abuse, Harassment and Inaction
Interviewees said that they had little faith in the local police, particularly after police and Manus residents stormed the main center during February 2014 protests. One asylum seeker died and 51 were injured, some seriously, including one man shot in the buttocks. An Australian senate committee said it “received convincing evidence that members of the PNG Police mobile squad did enter Mike compound [at the main center] and that as they did so they discharged their firearms.” A later senate report stated, “The committee noted evidence of concerns about a lack of fair treatment towards refugees and asylum seekers by PNG authorities, including local police.”
PNG police have also allegedly beat refugees and asylum seekers. An Iranian asylum seeker said that in August 2016 he told Australian Border Force (ABF) staff about sexual harassment by one of the PNG guards at the main center:
ABF said any complaint goes to the police. I refused because I didn’t feel safe, but that night they called the police. The police said it [the allegation of sexual harassment] is bullshit. The grabbed me by the hair… they started grabbing me, they put me in the car and started hitting me and said, “Go back to your country.”
Two refugees described how they and another refugee were attacked by four Papuans in town in January at about 5:30 p.m. They said the assailants stole their phones and money while other Papuans watched and laughed. Police arrived and arrested the three refugees, telling them that they were disturbing “our local people.” One refugee said that they were detained in the police lockup for 24 hours without food. “My friend was crying and scared, and then one of the police kicked him in the mouth,” he said. “He fell down and there was lots of blood.”
The refugees said that many had stopped reporting cases to the police because of these incidents and police inaction. “We have no money, no connections,” an Iranian refugee said. “How can we defend ourselves?”
Neither of the victims of the knife attacks reported them to the police, nor did the two Afghans who were beaten up. One Afghan said, “The police don’t help. They don’t want to help us. They will still tell you, ‘Why are you coming outside and moving around for what? You should stay there, in the camp.’” Jahim, the Bangladeshi knife attack victim, said, “I didn’t tell the police. The police are not listening to us [refugees]. It’s not my country. Now when I see Papuans, I feel scared. I don’t come to town.”
Authorities immediately transferred Masoud, the Iranian knifing victim, to Port Moresby and he has not returned to Manus. A witness to the incident who saw Masoud at the hospital said he went to the police that morning to report the incident, leaving the victims at the hospital. He hoped that the police would put pressure on PNG and Australian immigration officials to take prompt action. But according to the witness, the police officer said: “There’s nothing I can do to help you guys.”
The first day I arrived there, they bashed me up during the night shift. About six or seven security staff dragged me on the ground, they hit me in the face with my thongs. They pulled me into the corridor. Many Papuans were watching. I was screaming. They opened my wound and it was bleeding. Almost one hour they were bashing me. I had an inflamed eye after the attack. They were dragging me around, trying to drag me to a cell. When I went in that cell there were about 20 Papuans in there.
Masoud said he stayed in the mental hospital for three weeks:
We slept on the floor. There was only one dirty bed. They gave me pills – I think they were antidepressants and antibiotics. For one week I was locked in the cell. Then they let me out. I tried to talk to them in English, the PNG psychologists they were trying to help get me out. They said, “You shouldn’t be here.”
Masoud believes the PNG psychologists contacted the Australian Border Force and IHMS who then collected him.
Refugees and asylum seekers said they have developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, inability to sleep, and short-term memory loss on the island. UNHCR has noted the link between these conditions and indefinite detention. In 2016, UNHCR found that 88 percent of 181 refugees and asylum seekers surveyed on Manus had a “depressive or anxiety disorder and/or post-traumatic stress disorder.” Many of the men interviewed had witnessed or been directly affected by the violent assaults on asylum seekers and refugees in February 2014.
There is inadequate access to mental health support and services on Manus Island generally. Refugees and asylum seekers at the soon-to-be-closed main center have on-site access to IHMS, the private contractor hired by the Australian government, and counseling services by Offshore Service for Survivors of Torture and Trauma. But residents of the transit center have much more limited access to IHMS and otherwise must go the Lorengau hospital. UNHCR’s medical experts concluded that the dire mental health crisis on Manus cannot be appropriately addressed in PNG, and that those with mental health conditions should be transferred back to Australia as a matter of urgency.
Settlement of Refugees in PNG
In four years, 35 refugees have accepted settlement in PNG, but only four of these are working and self-reliant. A PNG official told Human Rights Watch:
Settlement has failed. We have delivered, we have done what we can. Now you need to take these people. The refugees aren’t safe. The pay is terrible, only 3 kina [US$0.94] an hour. The Australian government has to subsidize it so they can make ends meet, but what happens when the Australians remove that support?
PNG’s official settlement policy welcomes refugees to settle in PNG so long as they are self-sustaining. But the reality for foreigners without money or connections, many of whom do not speak English, is very different. UNHCR has also said that:
Measures intended to help facilitate integration in PNG have not worked, and that PNG’s Refugee Policy in particular, has caused a number of difficulties for refugees. Pursuant to this policy, refugees must receive support which is comparable to that made available to local people (and therefore does not take into account their inherent disadvantages); and a refugee must first establish “effective settlement” and financial independence before they can sponsor their family to join them, disregarding the “established fact that the unity of the family is a key facilitator of effective settlement.”
Refugees who have left Manus have described their lives in Port Moresby’s dangerous neighborhoods. One refugee living in the Port Moresby suburb of Gerehu said, “We can hear gunshots at night. A person was killed last week. It is not safe at all.” A refugee staying in the suburb of Boroko said that in broad daylight a raskol (criminal) gang came into the motel where he stayed and at gunpoint forced a Papuan man to hand over the keys to his car.