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’Enough is enough’ - Catholic church condemns Manus detention

Tuesday 29 January 2019

Benjamin Robinson-Drawbridge, RNZ

More refugees detained on Manus Island will die in the coming days unless they are taken out of Papua New Guinea for medical treatment, the Catholic church says.

The general secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of PNG and Solomon Islands, Giorgio Licini, has just returned to Port Moresby from the island where he said three refugees attempted suicide during his two day visit.

"These self harm and suicide attempts, they are a daily occurrence," a tearful Fr Licini told RNZ Pacific.

"If nothing is done immediately we are going to have, in the next few weeks, people not only getting sick, seriously, not only getting crazy, completely, we are going to have people die."

Fr Licini was allowed to visit about 600 refugees detained in three facilities in the island's main town, Lorengau.

Most have been detained on Manus for almost six years for trying to reach Australia by boat to seek asylum. Seven have died on Manus.

Upon his return to the PNG capital, Fr Licini visited about 20 Manus refugees at Pacific International Hospital (PIH) "in extremely serious conditions as far as their mental health is concerned".

At least two of them are on the verge of death, he said.

"There is an Iraqi who is refusing food and drink, he's almost unconscious... This guy, he's going in a few days."

Another man, who had swallowed "pieces of metal" and was unlikely to receive surgery at PIH, was among a number at the hospital who had given up and were "just waiting to die", he said.

Other refugees at PIH with complaints including kidney stones, respiratory and heart problems were "practically unattended".

"Pacific International Hospital is not equipped in any way for serious cases," Fr Licini warned.

"If you want to save their lives you have to take them to Australia or another country."

While struggling to compose himself, the general secretary said he would soon write to the prime minister of PNG, Peter O'Neill.

"There is one and only one solution," he said. "For the prime minister of Papua New Guinea to tell the prime minister of Australia, either incoming or ongoing, that enough is enough.

"These people have paid a price that is beyond what humans can tolerate... They are giving up on their lives... This chapter has to close within the next few weeks or few months."

Back on Manus, a refugee advocate warned through social media that a refugee in Lorengau Hospital was likely to die.

The man, who had attempted suicide, was also refusing food and water.

Kurdish refugee Benham Satah said the facility where he was detained in Lorengau had become "exactly like a mental hospital".

"You need to be careful walking in the corridors," he said. "Nobody is mentally well and they have no control over their actions." 
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