A Floating Hope 20b - Postscript



The situation for people being held by the Australian government on Manus Island and Nauru was continually evolving during the course of compiling this case study. Since the case study was published in 2018, there have been several significant developments, and to date – almost 7 years on from the introduction of the 19 July policy – Australia’s ‘offshore processing’ regime remains intact. The circumstances of those subject to it have not been resolved, although some individuals are no longer on Nauru or Manus Island.

In February 2019, the last refugee children on Nauru departed for the US. This followed the national #KidsOffNauru campaign. The flaws of this campaign, however, are evidenced by the reality that a year on, hundreds of adults still remain in PNG and Nauru and public attention and campaigning has plateaued.

In March 2019, the Medevac Bill became law for a brief period, representing a significant loss for the government which campaigned heavily against it. This legislation was intended to provide a clearer and more transparent pathway for people in PNG and Nauru to be transferred to Australia to receive medical treatment. It aimed to reduce political interference in decisions around the health and welfare of individuals, as transfers could be triggered by medical advice and recommendations from two independent Australian doctors. These recommendations, however, could still be reviewed by the Minister of Home Affairs.

The passing of this legislation prompted an expensive and alarmist PR exercise by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who re-opened the Christmas Island Detention Centre supposedly as a ‘deterrent’ in anticipation of a rush of people seeking to exploit the new law. However, no one who was transferred under the Medevac system has been sent there as yet, nor did the legislation prompt an influx of people seeking asylum by boat. Instead in 2020 the site was used to detain and quarantine Australian citizens following the racialised panic surrounding the Coronovirus.

Nine months after the Medevac Bill became law, the Medevac repeal bill was passed after the government was able to secure the support of key cross-bencher, Senator Jacqui Lambie. Up until that point around 180 people had been medically evacuated under the Medevac system. Many of those who were transferred to Australia for medical treatment over the past year remain detained in closed immigration detention centres, hotels and others sites designated as APODs (Alternative Places of Detention).

The May 2019 re-election of the Coalition government triggered a mental health crisis on Manus Island escalating already high levels of despair which manifested in multiple self-harm and suicide attempts. These, however, went largely unnoticed by the wider public.

In August 2019, 52 men who had previously been detained on Manus Island by the Australian government were arrested and held in isolation at the Bomana immigration detention centre in PNG. Nine of the men who were arrested had been approved for transfer under the Medevac system and others had applications in process; however, their detention prevented the transfer. Those who were arrested had all been assigned ‘negative’ refugee status by the PNG government, this included several men who had refused to participate in the refugee status determination process – maintaining that they had sought protection from Australia not PNG. Consequently they never had their claims for protection assessed. Despite this, they were or remain under pressure to return to their countries of origin.

‘It is a big crime happening there at Bomana. The [Australian] government wants to show that it [has] a successful policy, and that is why they put people in jail, in Bomana, as a symbol for this policy.

They spend a billion dollars on this policy, but they couldn’t defeat us, couldn’t beat us, couldn’t break us. That’s why they jailed these 50 people as a symbol. It is not reasonable and acceptable that among 1,100 people, they reject 50. These people who rejected, their cases are similar to others. We left from the same countries and same systems.’

Ariobarzan, man who self-deported after being detained at Bomana

After several months of being held incommunicado, in poor physical conditions, by January 2020 only 18 of the 52 remained there after others had been released after signing documents agreeing to return to their country of origin. Those who were able to resist this sinister attempt to coerce people to self-deport were moved to hotels in Port Moresby at the end of that month, however by that point several were so ill that they could not eat.

As of 30 September 2019, official figures indicate that around 600 people remained in Nauru and PNG, while just over 630 people had left for the US. More than 1,100 people who were forcibly sent to Manus and Nauru are now in Australia after being transferred for medical treatment. They all remain in precarious circumstances, either in closed detention, community detention or on rolling 6-month ‘final departure’ bridging visas with no pathway to permanently remain in Australia or reunite with their families.

In October 2019, 32 year old, Dr. Seyed Mirwais Rohani, who had been detained on Manus Island for several years before being transferred to Australia, suicided while living in community detention in Brisbane. His death underscores the lethality of forcing survivors of the offshore detention regime into a state of perpetual insecurity in Australia.

In November 2019, prominent journalist Behrouz Boochani who had been detained in PNG for more than 6 years arrived in New Zealand on a temporary 30 day visa. He remains in New Zealand today.

‘When I arrived in Auckland it was very strange because for the first time I looked at Manus in a different way. I was thinking about surviving, how I survive. And I was happy that finally I survived.’

Behrouz Boochani

In the absence of a clear pathway out of limbo some people are continuing to pursue other possible pathways to freedom, including sponsorship and resettlement in Canada. Individual and group crowd-funding pages have been set up to try and facilitate this, however timelines and prospects of resettlement remain unclear. After almost 7 years of this policy – which has now surpassed the length of the first iteration of the ‘Pacific Solution’ under the Howard government – it remains unclear how this system will come to an end.

As of January 2020, eight women remained on Nauru. One of those women stated,

‘It is very hard, but what can I do? It’s hard when other people are going. I also have some medical health issues, but they have not sent me anywhere [for treatment]…We don’t know when our refugee life will actually come to an end; I’m just waiting for a solution to this.’



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