It’s not too often that your work prompts days worth of National news coverage … but that has been the case since last weeks job for the Daily Telegraph and News Ltd in Papua New Guinea.
The job description from the DT pic desk was succinct … get to Port Moresby and find the first group of refugees that were flying out of Manus Island en route to the United States. In short … I did find them, spoke to them, shared drinks and (almost) a shisha pipe with them … and photographed them at Port Moresby airport as they departed for resettlement in the US.
The images were published page one and page six of the Daily Telegraph (below) … and almost instantly Australia’s Immigration Minister Peter Dutton denounced the asylum seekers in my photographs (variously from Myanmar, Sudan, Bangladesh, Somalia, etc) for their dress and refugee status, during a radio interview with Sydney’s Roy Hadley. The term “Armani Refugees” was bantered about.
This par is from The Guardian … “Mr Dutton, asked about an image of those preparing to depart Port Moresby, said a lot of people who ended up in the island camps had not come from war-ravaged areas but were instead economic refugees. They’d received “an enormous amount of support” from Australian taxpayers for a long time. “We have been taken for a ride, I believe, by a lot of the advocates and people within Labor and the Greens who want you to believe this is a terrible existence,” Mr Dutton said.”
So … there you have it … being incarcerated behind numerous massive razor wire topped fences for a period of around four years, being subjected to physical and mental torment despite being classified as ‘genuine refugees’ by government agencies whist also NOT being a criminal … is astonishingly described by Dutton as “receiving an enormous amount of support”!
Let’s get this straight … the clothing of those asylum seekers who I saw depart PNG was either … donated by charities or government … or purchased on the very cheap from Manus Island road side stalls or shops. Armani or Gucci didn’t come into it.
Labor’s Chris Bowen fired back at Dutton … “They are refugees, they’ve been found by him (Immigration Minister Peter Dutton) and his government to be genuine refugees under the (UN 1951 Refugee) Convention – and he might choose to point that out rather than being the commentator on the efficacy or otherwise of their clothing.”
I spent several hours with the group of refugees in their well hidden Port Moresby hotel … and can confirm that their over riding concern wasn’t for fashion or clothing … but for the fate of the hundreds of their asylum seeker friends still facing an uncertain future at the hands of the Australian Government on Manus Island.
It did take several days … but on Sunday Foreign Minister Julie Bishop DID come out to contradict colleague Dutton and confirm that “people leaving Australia’s offshore detention centres for resettlement in the US were ‘genuine refugees’ (source – The Guardian). At least Bishop showed some integrity … too much to expect any of that from Dutton.
Images © Brian Cassey & The Daily Telegraph