UNHCR Fact Sheet on Situation of Refugees and Asylum-Seekers on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea (5 July 2018)
Key Findings and Recommendations
3,172 refugees and asylum seekers have been forcibly transferred by Australia to facilities in Papua New Guinea and Nauru since the introduction of the current ‘offshore processing’ policy in 2013.2 Of these, some 750 people remain in Papua New Guinea, including approximately 580 on Manus Island. Some 287 refugees are accommodated at East Lorengau Refugee Transit Centre, along with 175 refugees at West Lorengau Haus and 130 asylum-seekers at Hillside Haus. The facts in this document were collected during UNHCR’s most recent monitoring mission to Papua New Guinea from 28 May to 2 June 2018, which was undertaken with two expert medical consultants – a psychiatrist and general practitioner with expertise in primary care systems.
With the continued handing down of decisions under the bilateral relocation agreement between Australia and the United States of America, specific planning and risk mitigation is critical for those who may not be admitted to the United States. Clear alternatives and information-sharing with refugees on their options for a safe and adequate solution outside of Papua New Guinea are urgently needed.
UNHCR protection staff and medical experts observed a high level of tension and further deterioration in the mental health of refugees and asylum-seekers on Manus Island. Separation from family members and a deep seated fear of being abandoned in Papua New Guinea by Australia without adequate support has contributed to an acute sense of insecurity and helplessness. It can be anticipated that an ongoing lack of support for vulnerable individuals will lead to serious, adverse outcomes, in the context of high levels of anxiety and depression. These negative consequences are clearly foreseeable and preventable. Various reliable sources consistently advised UNHCR staff that coordination and planning for critical incident management and response had not been put in place with relevant local authorities, including the hospital and police forces.
Caseworkers visit refugee and asylum-seeker accommodation sites for the purpose of identifying and providing support for vulnerabilities such as medical needs and mental health issues. For people who have withdrawn and are unable to seek assistance, however, no follow up interventions are made. For those with serious mental health needs, such withdrawal may in fact be a sign of greater vulnerability. There is no systematic, ongoing process to identify those at low, medium or high levels of risk, and tailor assistance accordingly. This means that those with the most significant needs have not been monitored on a regular basis since October 2017.
Differing views persist between stakeholders regarding who has operational authority and responsibility for certain services on the ground on Manus Island. Notably, UNHCR staff asked diverse stakeholders who is responsible for follow up of identified vulnerable people, and received inconsistent answers. Service providers work in silos, without clear information as to the role of others - which should be complementary and coordinated.
The Government of Australia has no continuous or regular on the ground presence to coordinate and supervise the fulfilment of contractual obligations by those it has engaged to provide basic assistance and support to refugees and asylum-seekers on Manus Island. The Government of Australia, rather than the Government of Papua New Guinea, is the contracting party for all medical, security, infrastructure, garrison and caseworker services.
The Papua New Guinea Immigration and Citizenship Authority has a presence of up to six staff on Manus Island, and plays a liaison role only. Without being a party to contracts between the Government of Australia and service providers, they have no authority to instruct. Similarly, each of the companies engaged by the Government of Australia reports directly to them, and not to the Government of Papua New Guinea. While the Papua New Guinea Immigration and Citizenship Authority monitors the three accommodation sites, there is an evident disconnect between this function and the management of services and contracts.