The author – Suresh Rajan

Today 31st October 2017, the Australian government descends even further into complete abrogation of any principles of humanity when they close the Manus Detention Centre. Let’s look back at the history of this detention centre. Here is a timeline that was prepared by SBS:


2001: Offshore immigration detention centre established on Manus Island as part of the Howard government’s Pacific Solution.

2008: Rudd government closes Manus and Nauru detention centres.

November 2012: Gillard government reopens Manus and Nauru centres following a surge in asylum seeker boat arrivals.

July 2013: Rudd government declares Australia will never again accept asylum seekers arriving via boat, sending them instead to PNG for processing and possible resettlement.

February 2014: Protests from asylum seekers lead to violent riots at Manus centre, with PNG police and locals reportedly attacking detainees, with Iranian asylum seeker Reza Berati killed and 62 asylum seekers injured.

September 2014 : Iranian asylum seeker Hamid Khazaei, 24, dies in a Brisbane hospital after a cut to his foot becomes infected at Manus and he does not receive medical attention in time.

January 2015: 300 asylum seekers on Manus embark on hunger strikes and self-mutilation.

July 2015: Media reports a spate of violent crimes at Manus, including the alleged murder of a centre security guard, a machete attack and a gang rape by Australian guards.

February 2016: A class action involving 600 asylum seekers is launched in PNG’s Supreme Court to challenge the legality of the Manus centre.

April 2016: PNG Supreme Court finds Manus centre to be illegal and unconstitutional, with PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill confirming the detention centre will be shut down.

December 2016: Sudanese refugee Faysal Ishal Ahmed dies after suffering months of blackouts, falls and seizures.

April 2017: Nine people injured during a Good Friday shooting, after PNG military personnel opened fire on the Manus Island centre

May 2017: Papua New Guinea immigration officials confirm the centre will close on October 31.

June 2017: The Australian government settles a class action, paying $70 million to more than 2000 detainees, but denies any liability.

August 2017: Iranian asylum seeker Hamed Shamshiripour takes his own life.

September 2017: Twenty-five men leave PNG for the United States under a refugee resettlement deal, with more expected to follow.

October 2017: A Sri Lankan refugee dies in Lorengau hospital.

October 2017: More than 600 detainees refuse to leave the Manus Island offshore detention centre, fearing for their safety in Lorengau.”

Much has been written and said about the role that we have as a nation to play in the care and protection of these people in Manus. There is little doubt that we created this centre for the sole purpose of avoiding our obligations under the UN treaties on refugee protection. By moving these people offshore our government has been able to say (in a technically correct manner) that these refugees and asylum seekers have never come to our shores. Additionally, by excising great wads of land around Australia out of our immigration zones, we can extend our “not landing in Australia” hypothesis. Does that remove our obligation to care for these people? Clearly it cannot. We are still obligated to abide by the conventions provided for in the treaties around refugees and asylum seekers.

Back in 2014, the National Ethnic Disability Alliance examined Australia’s position in respect of Refugees. Their findings ( were as follows:

“Australia is a signatory to several international instruments that uphold the basic human rights of refugees and people seeking asylum. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Human Rights Commission’s Convention and Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees inform Australia of its obligations to ensure that the human rights of asylum seekers are upheld.

Other conventions that pertain to refugees and asylum seekers are: The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, Convention on the Rights of the Child and Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

In addition, The Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons enables a strong anti-discrimination mandate and promotes participation, empowerment and independence for people with disabilities. These international conventions are the basic compliance mechanisms in the ongoing struggle to protect the human rights of refugees, and those refugees that live with disability.

Australian law requires the detention of all non-citizens who are in the country without a valid visa. As a result, people who arrive to Australia without a visa (unauthorised arrivals), or people in Australia who become unlawful because their visa expires or is cancelled (authorised arrivals) are subsequently detained.

However, mandatory detention policies and practices violate International Law and are breach of Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which states that no person is to be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention.

Since Australia’s introduction of mandatory detention in 1992, The United Nations Human Rights Committee has repeatedly found Australia to be in breach of its international obligations, arguing that Australia’s asylum seeker policy has ‘lead to a chain of human rights violations’. For example, In August 2013 the UN Human Rights Committee found 143 violations of international law by Australia.

At the 53rd Convention against Torture and Other Cruel and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment session (November 2014) the committee recommended that Australia abolish mandatory detention and adopt policies that ensure all asylum seekers claims are assessed properly and promptly”

But for the purposes of this article I want to explore the plight of a sub group of people in the detention centre in Manus. Again, referring back to the report above from NEDA, they produced this table that identified the number of people with disabilities that were in detention centres at Nauru and Manus:

Number of People living with Disabilities Detained in
Australian Immigration Detention, as at 30 September 2014

Onshore                                        Regional Processing Centres (Manus Island, Nauru)

Adults                                                 219                           109

Minors                                                  49                               5

Total                                                   268                           114

The table indicates that there are 268 PWD’s in Onshore detention centres and 114 in Manus and Nauru.

My question then goes to our obligations as a nation to the people with disabilities in Manus (which is being closed). Our obligations herein are governed by the UNCRPD (United Nations Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons). This was a convention we very proudly, and correctly, stood on the roof tops and cheered about the signing of.

Again quoting NEDA in their report in 2014:

“The disabilities these people lived with, included:

·         Amputation;

  • Cognitive (dementia);
  • Developmental (Asperger’s disorder, autism, developmental delay)
  • Functional impairment (reduced mobility, deformity, multiple sclerosis);
  • Hearing impairment (hearing loss, deafness);
  • Visual impairment (blindness of eye, visual impairment, coloboma); and
  • Other (epilepsy and neuralgia)

Detailed data on the ethnicity of people with disabilities in immigration detention is not available, however the top five nationalities identified by the DIBP were[3]:

  • Iranian;
  • Stateless;
  • Afghan;
  • Iraqi;
  • Pakistani


In July 2014 there were 28 children with disabilities detained in immigration detention, aged between 2 and 17 years old and who on average had spent 11 months detained.

These disabilities these children lived with included:

  • Vision disabilities
  • Hearing disabilities
  • Epilepsy
  • Developmental disabilities i.e. developmental delays, autism, reactive attachment disorder, conduct disorder
  • Spinal deformity
  • Congenital kidney anomaly

In addition, in July 2014 a total of 36 children residing in immigration detention were assessed as having a mental health illness or mental health disorder.

The mandatory detention of children, more specifically children with disabilities, is not only unlawful but abhorrent. The Australian Human Rights Commission’s recently published The Forgotten Children: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention (2015) thoroughly documents the negative impact that prolonged detention has on children’s physical and mental health and details how immigration detention is a dangerous place for children to live in. It provides compelling and numerous accounts of incidents of violence i.e. assault, sexual assault and self-harm, within Australian managed detention centres.

A prominent health care practitioner within the field of refugee health has informed NEDA that in Regional Processing Centres “there is sub-optional care for children with special needs because of little to no allied health services available, such as physiotherapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, audiology and dietetics.’

Australia’s mandatory detention of children is at odds with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, that dictates: ‘States have an obligation to take all appropriate measures to protect children from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation that includes sexual abuse Article 19(1)’.

Taking into consideration what is known about the invisibility of people living with disabilities within refugee communities, and the prior-mentioned obstacles to disability identification, it is probable that the number of asylum seekers living with disabilities currently detained is underreported.”

What we have done as a nation with refugees and asylum seekers is abhorrent at best and demonstrably savage at worst. It is clear we have abrogated our responsibilities in so far as that group of people is concerned. But equally worrying and concerning and inappropriate is our treatment of people with disabilities in these detention centres.

We have, as a nation, been proud of our standing in the disability community. It is also readily apparent that our treatment of people with disabilities in detention centres breaches all of the convention provisions and is extraordinarily cruel and inappropriate. The closure of Manus Island is probably a good time to consider the possibility of redressing this approaching and moving those people with disabilities (and their families) as a starting point to Australia and into our community. We should also allow these people access to the disability services that we have been developing in this country over recent times.

I look forward to seeing the Turnbull government attempting to redress this action and starting to fulfil its obligation under the various conventions. I also look forward to seeing advocacy groups creating some groundswell to try and achieve this change.