If you were shown a map of the world, could you find Manus Island? If you would be a little bewildered, don’t be ashamed. No one I’ve asked has been able to come close to where it is (other than those who have been to Papua New Guinea—keep reading and you’ll find out). But maybe even more importantly, do you know what the Australian Government is doing on Manus?
To date, the Australian Government has not let a single journalist into the internment camp.
Once again, the chances are very small you do. And that’s not a coincidence.
While traveling in Papua New Guinea this month, I met a PNG national who works in the Australian asylum detention camp on Manus Island (the camp is actually on Los Negros Island, which is joined by a bridge to Manus). He began by telling me that all those working at the camp are forced by the Australians running it to sign a document promising not to talk about what goes on there. To date, the Australian Government has not let a single journalist into the internment camp. This is, of course, a very bad sign. What is it that the Australian Government doesn’t want the world to know about? A lot, it turns out.
The camp worker who sat next to me on an internal flight went on to confide that conditions in the Australian internment camp are deplorable; the asylum seekers are treated in an extremely disrespectful manner, and they are living in dreadful conditions. There is a lot of malaria on the island, it is crushingly hot but they are left in oven-like tents. Although there are saltwater crocodiles in the vicinity, desperate asylum seekers have tried to flee, only to be hunted down by the Australians and dragged back to the internment camp. He shook his head and said, “It is hard to believe people’s human rights can be taken away like this.”
As of last night, we don’t only need to rely on the testimony of a camp worker whose name I can’t reveal. A very brave Australian named Rod St George, who was the compliance officer at the detention camp, came forward and described the atrocious conditions being perpetrated in the name of the Australian people.
He reports heinous crimes ranging from rape to torture against detainees are not being prevented. Further, he states conditions in the camp are so bad, it is not fit to “serve as a dog kennel”. His short interview is something that every Australian should view before deciding whether or not to support the extremely harsh policies of both major political parties (click here to watch the interview).
So, where is Manus Island? It is at the very top of PNG, just a few degrees south of the equator. Why not take a minute to “Google Map” it, and think about the lives of people currently being held there. Is that the way Christ would want us to treat people in desperate need?
James Standish is director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the South Pacific.