SYDNEY: Australian Immigration Minister Tony Burke on Wednesday described as “horrific” explosive claims that asylum-seekers at one of its processing camps in Papua New Guinea (PNG) are being raped and tortured.
A former senior official at the Manus Island facility also detailed “almost daily” self-harm and attempted suicides while warning weapons were being accumulated in readiness for a break-out attempt.
“I’ve never seen human beings so destitute, so helpless and so hopeless before,” Rod St. George, the former head of occupational health and safety at the center, told SBS television.
The allegations come just days after Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that the facility would be massively expanded to accommodate 3,000 people, from the original 600, as part of a new hardline plan to send all asylum-seeker arrivals to Papua New Guinea.
“I took the position with every intention of making the place a safer environment but it proved quite rapidly to be an impossibility,” St. George said.
Disgusted by what he saw at the facility, which has been off-limits to the Australian media, St. George quit.
Under the new hardline policy, unauthorized boatpeople arriving in Australian waters will now be banished to Manus Island and elsewhere in the Pacific nation for assessment, and even if found to be “genuine refugees” they will have no chance of being settled in Australia.
Instead, they will have to remain in poverty-stricken and lawless PNG, be sent back home or to third countries.
St. George, a former prison guard, said up to half a dozen young men were assaulted and raped by fellow inmates, while others were beaten and forced to sew their lips together to protest over conditions.