Just returned from a relatively lengthy stint on Manus Island Papua New Guinea working on stories for News Ltd relating to the asylum seekers and PNG’s Supreme court decision … and how the decision and imminent ordered detention centre closure will effect the Manus Island locals.
The PNG court decision on the illegality of the detention of Australia’s asylum seekers has meant that many detainees have now been allowed to mingle freely with the wider Manus population … bringing new tensions and challenges to the tropical island.
I’m not going to delve into the depth of these stories by colleague journalist Peter Michael here … they have been published widely in News Ltd dailies and online.
However, I will say that the people of Manus are endearingly pleasant and most genuinely welcoming … just as they were during my last visit three years ago. A walk around means a constant procession of ‘Good Morning’, ‘Mornin’ or ‘Good Evening’ … and almost everyone wants to stop for a leisurely chat. It’s also just about the only place I’ve been to where … almost without exception … everyone really wants to have their photograph taken. Makes it so much harder to get the ‘candid’ images that I so much prefer.
Can’t say the same about some of the asylum seekers, however … although they did put forward some convincing and heart felt reasons why they did not wish to be photographed. ‘Detainees’ were for the most part pleasant but one could sense the monstrous frustration and desperation that they felt at this point in their forced detention.
In particular we spoke to two young men … from Iran and Iraq … who were just seventeen when they left their homelands to start life afresh three years ago. Both have entertained suicide and self harm … both appeared severely psychologically scarred. One went on a drink and drug fuelled bender while we were there which ended in him being arrested and beaten (see FB post here. I was almost arrested myself when I attempted to pass food and clothing to him in the Lorengau police jail.)
As well as images of the detainees I made many pics documenting the lifestyle of Manus Islanders … and I will roll these out on Facebook and Instagram under the title “Manus Island – Heaven & Hell” – and also work on a full pic essay for the web site. Below are just four of the images from the Manus visit … top is Iraqi asylum seeker Abdulatif in the Lorengau police cell following his arrest and beating … next is an image of locals landing a turtle that they captured whilst it was mating (the other was also captured … sort of two for one) … an image of a child on neighbouring Hawaii Island … and a serene scene of an outrigger fisherman off the PNG coast.
To the question … Hell or Paradise ? Depends very much on who you are …
Images © Brian Cassey 2016