Australia refugee camp protesters in PNG struggle with hunger, trauma


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 SYDNEY,: Struggling with extreme heat and little food, refugees barricaded inside a shuttered Australian detention camp in Papua New Guinea were becoming “distraught and depressed”, detainees said Friday.

The remote camp on PNG’s Manus Island — one of two centres holding asylum-seekers who tried to reach Australia by boat — was proclaimed closed on Tuesday after the nation’s Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional.

Australia shut off water and electricity to the camp, but some 600 men remain inside, fearful for their safety if they move to transition centres where locals are reportedly hostile.

“The current mood of the men is they are really distraught and depressed,” Manus detainee and Sudanese refugee Abdul Aziz Adam told AFP.

“We are just helping and caring for each other and trying to help each other just to stay alive,” the 24-year-old said.

Iranian Behrouz Boochani, another Manus detainee, tweeted early Friday about the men’s struggles with hunger.

“At the moment hundreds of naked men are lying around me. They are starving and their bodies are getting weak,” he wrote.

Boochani told AFP Friday the detainees were able to “collect water in rubbish bins” after a downpour the day before, and were also boiling water pooled inside a hole they had dug to drink.

“Many people are unable to sleep because of hunger and fear,” he added.

The UNHCR representative on the island, Lam Nai Jit, told AFP Thursday tensions were likely to rise as the men battled the “extremely hot and humid” weather.

A key concern for the refugees has been the lack of medication, particularly for those being treated for mental health conditions.

“Around 20 percent of people in the detention centre are being prescribed anti-depression drugs for obviously being depressed or for post-traumatic stress,” Australian Greens senator Nick McKim, who visited the centre Tuesday, told AFP late Thursday.

The Australian newspaper, which gained access to the compound Thursday, said some of the men had not been outside the site since they were taken there years ago, and were almost hysterical about leaving.

Three transition centres on Manus were available for the men to move to, but the UNHCR said one was not finished while two did not have security fences.

Locals were also not consulted when the facilities were being built, stoking tensions between the Manus communities and the refugees, Lam said.

Canberra’s offshore processing policy has been criticised by rights groups as essentially placing refugees in indefinite detention on remote Pacific islands.

But the government says it has stopped deaths at sea after a spate of drownings-AFP