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What is the Manus Island refugee crisis and why is it making Russell Crowe angry?

More than 600 refugees are stranded at an offshore detention facility which has been officially closed down.

world Updated: Nov 02, 2017 15:29 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times
Manus island,Manus island detention centre,Russel crowe
Actor Russell Crowe expressed his anger at the way the Australian government has handled the Manus island refugee crisis. (REUTERS)

Actor Russel Crowe took to social media on Wednesday, angry at the way Australia has handled the Manus Island standoff, where more than 600 refugees are stranded at a detention facility which was closed down.

The Manus Regional Processing Centre, located on the Manus island in Papua New Guinea, is one of Australia’s offshore immigration detention facilities. Papua New Guinea hosts Australia’s detention facilities for refugees in return for aid and payouts as part of a ‘Pacific Solution’ policy.

The Manus centre was declared unconstitutional by Papua New Guinea and shut down on court orders, but 600 refugees refuse to leave and have barricaded themselves in. The refugees fear a threat to their life if they are moved elsewhere.

Crowe, who was born in New Zealand and lives in Australia, called the crisis a “ nation’s shame” and offered to house some of the refugees. The actor tweeted: “Manus. A Nations shame. Lives held in limbo . Lives lived in fear & despair . It’s f***ing disgraceful.”

When a Twitter user baited Crowe, asking him to put up the refugees himself, Crowe had a considered response, saying he could find accommodation and jobs for six people.

Other prominent Australians backed up Crowe’s offer, saying they would help out refugees and have

Here is a look at how the Manus Island crisis unfolded and how the Australian government handled it:

What is the Manus detention centre?

The Manus Regional Processing Centre, located on the small island of Manus which falls under Papua New Guinea, is one of Australia’s offshore detention facility for immigrants. It is part of Australia’s Pacific Solution policy, that transports asylum seekers to detention centres on islands in the Pacific Ocean, rather than allowing them to land on Australian mainland.

The Manus detention centre was established in 2001, along with another such centre at Nauru. Manus houses single male refugees, while the Nauru camp is dedicated to women and families.

Both camps were closed down in 2008, but reopened in 2012 to cater too an influx of refugees. In 2013, Australia entered into an agreement with Papua New Guinea, paying the country 400million Australian dollars to house genuine refugees.

Why was the Manus centre closed down?

In April 2016, Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court ruled that detention of asylum seekers and refugees on Manus Island was unconstitutional and hence, the ‘illegal’ centre should be shut down.

The court argued that the camp breached Section 42 of Papua New Guinea’s constitution, which guarantees personal liberty. The Manus centre has been called ‘Australia’s Guantanamo’ . Abysmal conditions at the centre have resulted in hunger strikes by refugees held there. One man swallowed razor blades as a way of protest.

Riots have broken out at the centre, and in April this year, drunk Papua New Guinea guards opened fire on refugees. In June 2017, the Australian government agreed to pay 70 million Australian dollars ($53m) as compensation to more than 1,900 asylum seekers who brought in a legal suit over their treatment at the Manus camp.

Other offshore detention camps have similar stories. In 2016, The Guardian published a report revealing the scale of abuse of children housed in the Nauru camp.

Why do the refugees refuse to leave?

The Manus centre was decommissioned and refugees were asked to relocate to other locations. But more than 600 men are refusing to leave the centre, fearing for their life and safety.

The UN high commissioner for refugees has said that alternative accommodation is not ready yet. Earlier reports of locals on the island gathering with stones and machetes outside the camp or looting camps, have added to their concern.

Staff has already abandoned the camp, and electricity and drinking water have been cut off. Lawyers for the detainees filed a lawsuit to get a stay on the camp’s closure.

The remaining men at the centre are running out of food and water, and are subsisting on dry biscuits and water collected in catchments, snowballing the standoff into a full-blown humanitarian crisis.

More than 600 men are refusing to leave the now-decommissioned centre in Papua New Guinea and relocate to alternative accommodation. They have expressed concerns for their safety, and asylum seeker advocates say the facilities are not ready.

First Published: Nov 02, 2017 14:38 IST