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Manus detainees ask for NZ asylum

Radio New Zealand logo Radio New Zealand 23/05/2017

Asylum seekers detained by Australia on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island have written to New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English to request asylum.

The men are facing deportation after being denied refugee status, but say the refugee determination process was flawed.

In the letter, the asylum seekers cite violent attacks on detainees and the detention centre throughout their four-year imprisonment as evidence that PNG is incapable of providing asylum.

The letter sent to the New Zealand Prime Minister by Manus Island asylum seekers - with signatures. © RNZ The letter sent to the New Zealand Prime Minister by Manus Island asylum seekers - with signatures.

"On February 17, 2014 there was a terrible incident in the camp where the paid guards attacked us, the inmates, and one of our members was killed, Reza Barati. Many others were injured.

"Last month, on Good Friday, 14 April 2017, PNG Navy personnel attacked us with automatic weapons shooting at the centre ... Luckily none of us was killed but many people were nearly hit by bullets coming through the walls into their rooms ... We are not protected by the Australian government who brought us here or the PNG government who have been given responsibility for our welfare."

About 200 of the roughly 900 men detained on Manus were denied refugee status, many of whom refused to engage in the determination process out of fear they would be settled in PNG.

"After the attack in 2014, many of us lost confidence in the refugee assessment process and did not continue with it. We were told that if we were assessed as refugees we would be made to stay in PNG and we are not safe here.

"Those of us who were not assessed were given a negative refugee status. Additionally many of those people who went through the assessment and who were given a negative refugee status were not given a proper opportunity to describe their situation as they were still traumatised by the attack and were afraid to tell their full stories.

"The assessments were not undertaken by an independent body such as the UNHCR, but by the PNG government and private companies. Those of us who are not refugees have returned to their home countries, but all of us who have endured this time on Manus Island are genuine refugees.

"We are not safe in PNG and are in constant fear for our lives. We are routinely attacked and robbed when we go into Lorengau town. We are not welcome in this country and have no place in it."

A close-up of the letter. © RNZ A close-up of the letter.

The men appealed to Mr English for clemency and for his government to restate its offer to grant sanctuary to some of the detainees, an offer that was rebuffed by Australia.

The asylum seekers said the offer should now be extended to the PNG government, which Australia has said was responsible for the men.

"We humbly request that you revisit your offer to take asylum seekers from offshore camps and take us to New Zealand. We are confident that if you properly assess our claims for asylum you will find that we are genuine refugees.

"We urgently need to be taken from PNG and given a chance to rebuild our lives in a country that has experience in settling refugees, which PNG does not. In accordance with the UN Refugee convention of 1951, we seek asylum in New Zealand as we are in fear of our lives.

"We promise to commit ourselves to helping build New Zealand and will work towards making it one of the best countries in the world. We sincerely request that you allow us to come to New Zealand."

The gradual closure of the Manus Island detention centre was announced last week with the camp due to be shut completely by 31 October.

Men denied refugee status were advised to apply for repatriation with financial support by 31 August or face deportation by the PNG government.

Those who fail to apply could also be sent to Australia's other offshore detention centre on Nauru, where the rate of mental illness has been found by the UN to be the second highest of any refugee population in the world behind Manus.

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